Having grown up with Gaylord Ravenal, Ben Jacoby is something of an expert on “Show Boat,” the first truly American musical.
“The music is special to me because I grew up listening to it, and ‘Show Boat’ is kind of the standard for the genre,” said Jacoby, who is playing Ravenal, the suave and debonair male lead in the classic Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein collaboration set to open tonight at Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham.
“It’s really when American musical theater was born. The music actually propelled the plot. It was something different, something new than what people were used to.”
Jacoby’s connection to Ravenal is indeed a special one, his father, Mark, having played the part in the 1995 Tony Award-winning revival of “Show Boat.” It won five Tonys and earned 10 nominations, including one for Mark Jacoby for best actor.
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 NY Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: 2 and 8 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 25, through Sept. 5, check with theater for other performance times
HOW MUCH: $28-$12
MORE INFO: 392-9292 or www.machaydntheatre.org
“My dad and all of our family is excited about this happening,” said Jacoby, referring to him reprising his father’s role. “I was pretty young at the time when he did it, around 7 or 8, but I do have this vague recollection of watching him do it. He hasn’t asked me yet if I want any advice, but if any problems arise I’ll just ask him.”
For Gazette theater writer Carol Kings's review of this show, click here.
“Show Boat,” first produced for the stage in 1927, is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, written in 1926. The story focuses on the people working and living on a Mississippi Riverboat called the Cotton Blossom in the late 19th century.
It spawned two Hollywood film versions, with Irene Dunne and Allan Jones playing the two leads in 1936 and Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in the 1951 production.
“I haven’t seen the movie musical in quite a long time, and there are a few different versions of the show,” said Jacoby. “But it is beautiful music, and it’s a story with a very serious theme to it. It’s definitely a challenge to make the audience feel sympathetic toward my character. He’s a gambler, and he makes a few dumb choices, but he’s still gotta be likable. You have to find a way to warm up to him.”
No easy choice
Following in his father’s footsteps wasn’t an easy choice for Jacoby, who will head back to the University of California-Irvine in the fall for his second year of graduate school.
“I was into singing and performing right from the start, but I didn’t know to what extent I wanted to devote my life to it,” he said. “I went to college as an English lit major, so I was trying to play it safe and keep my options open. It was only just this past year that I actually took the leap and decided to go to grad school for acting.”
Singing always came first for him.
“Singing is how I really got into show business,” he said. “I was always singing in choirs as a young kid, then I got into musical theater. I’ve put that aside a little bit at graduate school. They don’t demand that I sing at all there, so it’s nice to concentrate on my acting.”
He has become a regular at Mac-Haydn since the summer of 2008. Two years ago he was the lead character in “The Phantom of the Opera,” and in 2009 he played the Beast in “ Beauty and the Beast.”
Already this summer he has performed in “The Secret Garden,” “Damn Yankees,” “Chicago” and “Mame.”
“You’re always doing two things at once when you work at Mac-Haydn,” he said.
“You’re performing one show in the evening and you’re rehearsing another during the day. It’s a very busy summer, but I knew what I was getting into and I love it. I feel very lucky that they have entrusted so much to me. It’s been a great experience working here.”
He is convinced he’s on the right career path, but it wasn’t because his parents pushed him in that direction.
“My dad is still in the business, my mother was in the business, so I’ve been around that lifestyle my whole life,” he said.
“My parents were very realistic growing up, and while they supported me and see everything I’m in, they understand and appreciate how hard this business is. So they were very cautious about pushing me in any way. They know that it’s a very hard living and that if I don’t book every job, it’s OK.
“I never felt like, ‘This is what I have to do with my life,’ but at the same time I was always kind of wondering how long I could resist it,” he said.
“But I definitely made the leap now, and I’m really enjoying grad school. I drove all the way from the west coast to get here, and I’m going to drive back, hopefully not by myself. I love it here but I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”