Statement of Purpose

American academia has always been fascinated with studies of Southern History and Culture. Only in recent years, however, have historians turned to popular texts and mass-media resources in their analysis of the Southern experience. The purpose of this hypertext project is to isolate a particular text, Show Boat, and investigate how the text functions in a historical and cultural context, with an emphasis on American perceptions and interpretations of the post Civil War South.

This project concentrates primarily on two Broadway musical versions of Show Boat: Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern's original 1927 production, and Hal Prince's 1995 revival currently showing on Broadway. The project also examines the original novel, by Edna Ferber, as well as two Hollywood productions: 1936 film directed by James Whale, and the 1 951 motion picture directed by George Sidney.

While the advertisement at left claims that Show Boat, is "Glorious and Timeless," it is important to consider the musical within the framework of a shifting historical perspective. Edna Ferber published Show Boat in 1926; the most recent revival entered the earliest stages of production in 1992. It is important, therefore, to study each of the productions individually, with an understanding of shifting ideological interpretations over six and a half decades. Show Boat's reproduction in various medias over a broad period of time affords the unique oppurtunity to examine a cultural commodity as a hallmark of history itself.

There are several factors which complicate this project, and which must be emphasized. First of all, Show Boat holds a unique place in the history of musical theater. It is both groundbreaking and conservate: a play which changed the face of musical theater forever by creating a venue for "serious" musicals, yet one which is not fully comfortable in the genre it has created. Secondly, the focus of the musical is theater itself. This layers the interpretation of the musical and blurs the distinction of what is real and what is, in the words of Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawks, "Only Make Believe"....


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