When Jerome Kern first spoke to Edna Ferber about his idea to create a musical from her novel Show Boat, the author thought he was crazy. (Ewen, 473). The conventional musical theater during the 1920's was comparable to Vaudeville, with side-show attractions and comedic routines. He eventually convinced Ferber by explaining to her his plans for a revolutionary new approach to musical theater, an imaginative reinterpretation of what was appropriate subject matter for musicals. The result of his effort was the first true combination of music, lyrics, plot, and authentic characters in a theatrical work.
This was a new era in the world of musical theater. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's blend of music, lyrics and libretto essentially paved the way for future theater. Show Boat changes the course of theater, redirecting the emphasis from the heavy operettas and the superficial music comedies which had dominated Broadway. As mentioned, the characters were far more three-dimensional and realistic, and the integration of music and plot was far more skillfully manuevered. Perhaps most importantly, Kern and Hammerstein strove to focus on a more elaborate and uncoventional topics. Show Boat manages to investigate such topics as race relations, miscegenation, and unhappy marriages while remaining entertaining and musically beautiful. This balance is an eternal legacy of the original production.