Lyric Opera of Chicago

Broadway star Ashley Brown to debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in Lyric Opera premiere new production of SHOW BOAT

Press Release Letterhead

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From Mary Poppins to Magnolia Hawks--
Broadway star Ashley Brown to debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago
opposite baritone Nathan Gunn as gamblin’ man Gaylord Ravenal
in Lyric Opera premiere/new production of
by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II
Twelve performances Feb. 12-Mar. 17, 2012

Additional casting includes:
Ross Lehman, Cindy Gold, Ericka Mac, Bernie Yvon, James Farruggio,
Brian McCaskill, John Lister, Renée Matthews, and Tony DiFalco

Soprano Ashley Brown, who originated the title role of the musical Mary Poppins on Broadway in 2006, will debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Magnolia Hawks in the company premiere of the classic American musical, Show Boat, Lyric’s general director William Mason announced today.

Brown, who received Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Drama Desk nominations for best actress for Mary Poppins, also portrayed the airborne English nanny throughout the U. S. (including performances at Chicago’s Cadillac Theatre in 2009). She recently completed that tour in Los Angeles, where she earned a 2010 Garland Award for “Best Performance in a Musical.”  Brown is now back on Broadway in her signature role through mid-July. She has also portrayed the leading role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and starred in the national tour of Disney’s On the Record jukebox musical.

Brown has performed with many of the major orchestras in the U. S. including the Boston Pops (Keith Lockhart), the New York Philharmonic (Marvin Hamlisch), the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (John Mauceri) at Disney Hall, the Pittsburgh Symphony opposite Shirley Jones (Marvin Hamlisch), the New York Pops (Steven Reineke) at Carnegie Hall (three times), the Fort Worth Symphony, the Cincinnati Pops (Erich Kunzel), the Indianapolis Symphony (Jack Everly three times), and the BBC orchestra opposite Josh Groban.

The New York Times cited Brown’s “sweet, melting ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’” as the “standout moment” in her most recent Carnegie Hall performance. The Cleveland Plain Dealer described Brown as “thrilling…astonishing…leave us much to remember.”  And of Brown’s most recent solo concert with the Indianapolis Symphony, the Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner declared her “sensational…the presence of a star who could one day join the ranks of White Way legends.”

 Brown earned her BFA degree in musical theater at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Lyric Opera Premiere / New Production

SHOW BOAT  / Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics) 

(in English with projected English texts) 12 performances beginning at 7:30 p.m., except for matinees at 2:00 p.m.

Feb. 12 (mat), 13, 17, 18, 22, 25, 28, Mar. 1 (mat), 2 (mat), 7 (mat), 9, 17

Premiered on Broadway in 1927, Show Boat contains some of the best-loved songs of the 20th century, including “Old Man River,” “Bill,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “You Are Love.” One of the most captivating visions of theatrical life ever presented on the American stage, this work blazed a trail for shows bridging the gap between opera and musical theater. Kern and Hammerstein were able to integrate songs into the drama as none of their musical-theater predecessors had done. The show boat of the title is the Cotton Blossom, depicted from 1880 up to the1920s.

Magnolia Hawks (soprano Ashley Brown, debut), the daughter of Captain Andy (baritone Ross Lehman, debut) and his wife Parthy (mezzo-soprano Cindy Gold, debut), has a fine life on the show boat her parents operate, thanks to the affection of her friends – the stevedore Joe (bass Morris Robinson, debut), the cook Queenie (soprano Angela Renée Simpson, debut), the acting company’s leading lady, Julie La Verne (soprano Alyson Cambridge) and supporting cast members Ellie (soprano Erica Mac, debut) and Frank (baritone Bernie Yvon). Sheriff Vallon (John Lister, debut) learns that Julie, a mulatto, is illegally married to a white man, the company’s leading actor Steve Baker (James Farruggio, debut). After the couple leaves the show boat, their roles are given to Magnolia and a rakish gambler, Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Nathan Gunn). The two marry – despite Parthy’s objections – and settle in Chicago, where Ravenal’s luck runs out. Deeply ashamed, he leaves his wife and their daughter Kim (TBA). When Julie, now singing at Chicago’s Trocadero Club, overhears Magnolia auditioning there, she purposely sacrifices her position so that it can be Magnolia’s. On New Year’s Eve at the Trocadero, Magnolia sings and becomes a star. 

Additional cast members include Brian McCaskill/debut, Renée Matthews/debut, and Tony DiFalco.

The production team includes stage director Francesca Zambello and conductor John DeMain, set designer Peter J. Davison, costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Mark McCullough, sound designer Mark Grey, and choreographer Michele Lynch (debut).

Generous sponsors for this new production are The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance, the Mazza Foundation, Jim and Vicki Mills/Jon and Lois Mills, Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“It’s up to companies such as ours to bring Show Boat and other classic American musicals to a new and wider audience,” Mason notes. “Francesca Zambello and John DeMain brought a riveting production of Porgy and Bess to Lyric a few seasons back to enormous acclaim and will do so again with Show Boat.”

“This is a seminal work, in many ways the beginning of opera and musicals in America,” said Zambello. “It was a phenomenal crossover piece in 1927, based on one of the great novels by Edna Ferber, about the great changes in America from 1880 through 1920. It’s a work that has at its very core politics, social change, racial issues – they’re deeply and brilliantly examined through personal lives. That is of course what makes great theater and great opera – telling an epic story through individual people’s lives.  To explore these characters and these issues in an opera house as the composer intended, with a great big chorus and orchestra, and one hit tune after another – I’m very honored to come back to do this, especially since part of the story takes place in Chicago.” Prior to Porgy and Bess Zambello’s productions at Lyric were Salome and Tristan und Isolde.