In rural Mississippi a local businessman, the most prosperous one in the city, is murdered. The first suspect is a black man waiting for a train. Who’s more vulnerable than an outsider with dark skin in the rural South in the early 1960’s? Thus there’s plenty of drama in In the Heat of the Night (1967).
Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, is waiting for his train. He’s brought in to the station and treated like the prime suspect till the police chief (Rod Steiger) learns that Tibbs is a leading homicide detective in Philadelphia. As much as it bugs the chief, he realizes that his force can’t solve the murder. They just don’t have Tibbs’ expertise. So he gets the Philadelphia Police Department to make Tibbs work with Chief Gillespie and his force.
The film shows the hostility and violence towards an African American whom the locals feel has risen above his station. The mystery is authentic and keeps the audience guessing. Of course, Poitier and Steiger give sterling performances. It’s an excellent portrayal of racism in the early 60’s.
“Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly . . . .” These Showboat lyrics still linger in my head over a week after seeing the musical. If you’re any where near the Lyric Opera,go see Showboat. Period. End of story. It’s fabulous.
The ads on PBS brought me in. I loved Aida, so why not try Showboat. I had no idea what the story was beyond something about a boat that went up and down the Mississippi with performers on it. I’d heard “Old Man River” plenty of times, but only casually and out of context. Even though I had to go the night before I was leaving for China, I couldn’t pass up this last chance for some culture.
The story was a lot meatier than I expected. Based on Edna Ferber‘s novel about a biracial woman, who passes, married to a white man Showboat offers the audience complexity along with great singing and dancing. I admit I expected fluff, but the story goes down the dark alleys inherent in marrying a guy who doesn’t amount to much. While Ms. Ferber was concerned that too much sugar might be added to her novel, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II transformed the genre, which up till then was light and frivolous. The original New York Times review asserts that
The adaptation of the novel has been intelligently made, and such liberties as the demands of musical comedy necessitate do not twist the tale nor distort its values.
Some critics mark Showboat as a turning point in American musicals.
I recommend going to the pre-performance lecture an hour before the curtain when you’ll learn about the flooding of the Mississippi at the time, Ms. Ferber’s influences, and background information on the creation of the show.
I was disappointed that I had to leave the show early to catch the 10:35 train home. !@#@!$ Metro for not having an 11:35 train. I toyed with the idea of staying for the whole show, but I just couldn’t get home at 1:15 that night. So I am now scouring Jinan for a DVD of the film. No luck so far. Rats!