By Sue Moore
Change is a-comin’ to the 66th staging of Vicksburg Rotary Club’s annual fundraiser. The past presentation featured great male choral music, corny jokes and slam-bang skits that have been part of the Showboat since its inception in 1953.
The new name is Showcase. It will still have some corny jokes, great chorus songs and a plot line according to the show’s script writers. The big difference will be the solo acts that are usually salted throughout the performance, according to Larry Forsyth, the show’s director.
All soloists are being asked to audition, said Syd Bastos, who heads the recruitment committee. “We want to showcase (thus the new name) the best talent in the area,” she said. “For most of the 65 years of its existence, the solo performers have come from within the chorus. We are reaching out to the greater community with an invitation to take a bigger part in the show. This should provide more diversity in the acts and different kinds of singers performing.”
The boat itself will also be history, said Mike Tichvon, general chairman for the last four years. “We have always incorporated a boat whether it was in a stage set or a backdrop. The theme is different, so we won’t need the boat as our primary mode of travel. We are going to the moon instead.”
The genesis of the Showboat was a minstrel show; Rotarians did song and dance routines and even performed in blackface in 1953. It was conceived as a fundraiser with over $650,000 now raised for Rotary to put back into the greater Vicksburg community. Some things did change. The blackface went out in 1984 and green men took the stage. Soon the all-male chorus and headliners grew more comfortable with being themselves on stage for the gags and songs.
With many talented choral directors, the singing parts became the headliner even when the boiler exploded almost on cue every year. It wasn’t just Rotarians who sang in the show. Anyone who could sing was invited to attend rehearsals. The four-part harmony of strictly men’s voices was stirring to the audience, Forsyth said. “We aren’t eliminating this from the show, we are just adding to it.”
“As new people moved into Vicksburg it became harder to communicate what a Showboat was,” Tichvon said. “Not as many folks were familiar with the minstrel show concept and the show gradually changed to reflect a different type of script. We kept the Showboat theme all these years. We knew we needed to change to attract a wider audience. The concept of Showcase became the motivation to upgrade all aspects of the performance.”
The new show will take the stage at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2. A matinee will be held on Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m. One thing that hasn’t changed is the price of general admission tickets: $10 each. They will be available at Church’s Insurance Agency, 125 E. Prairie Street, Vicksburg from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each weekday. They will be sold at the high school box office on the days of the three performances. All the money raised from ticket sales and the Showcase program will again be allocated to community charities.