As a musical, Kern’s Show Boat has all the flourish and glamour of the old Americanstyle big family musical, but the content of something that goes much deeper. Cape Town Opera’s production of Show Boat has enjoyed several triumphant seasons since its South African premiere in 2005. The show has had nightly standing ovations in Artscape in Cape Town, the Nürnberg State Theatre in Nürnberg, Den Norske Opera House in Oslo, the Malmö Opera House in Sweden, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Birmingham Hippodrome in Birmingham, The Lowry in Manchester, Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff and Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin.

Show Boat is a musical of the old American South, rich with nostalgia, humour, love stories and well-loved melodies. The combination of the Cape Town Opera’s gutsy rendition of Ol’ Man River, the witty and glamorous production, the over hundred period costumes and the stylish set has made Cape Town Opera’s production a winner wherever it tours.



The story begins in Mandela’s birthplace, in the town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. After his initiation into manhood and rejection of a traditional arranged marriage, Mandela decides his future lies beyond the Qunu hills and he flees to Johannesburg.

The narrative continues to act two with Mandela working as a lawyer in the township of Sophiatown, shortly before the Nationalist Party’s forced eviction of the township residents. Mandela’s political education and community leadership role becomes more pronounced during this time, as he rallies black South Africans toward the African National Congress cause.

The story concludes in act three, with the repercussions of the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela’s trial and incarceration, and his eventual release from the infamous Robben Island prison.

From traditional Xhosa choral music, to jazz and jive dancing of the 1950s township dance halls; from struggle songs of the 1980s, to the liberation music of the 1990s, Mandela Trilogy celebrates the vibrant variety of South African music while dramatising the defining moments that shaped Mandela’s life.



Artscape Opera House, Cape Town, South Africa
Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England
The Lowry, Manchester, England
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Wales
Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

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Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France

Malmö Opera, Malmö, Sweden

Staatstheater Nürnberg, Nürnberg, Germany

Opera House at Artscape, Cape Town, South Africa
Staatstheater Nurnberg, Nurnberg, Germany
Den Norske Opera, Oslo, Norway


In The Press

A top class show with lavish set

Simply the best show I’ve seen this year

True broadway style

This superb musical gives the audience a memorable journey aboard the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi showboat packed with characters, entertainers, love stories and drama.
Birmingham Mail


This superb production is both a feast to the ear with memorable music and to the eye with over 200 period costumes
Manchester Evening News

Within a few minutes the performance by the South African ensemble was halted by spontaneous applause in between the scenes… the ice was broken and the showboat was sailing on this wave of goodwill.
Nürnberger Zeitung


a top class show, with lavish sets and costume and ingeniously directed by Janice Honeyman… the chorus are the stars of the show.


Costumes and scenery are excellent in a fine show well directed by Janice Honeyman.
Birmingham Mail


Cape Town Opera’s production is enjoying a triumphant season with nightly standing ovations exceeding the response on opening night when the audience gave a standing ovation for 20 minutes.
Cape Times

Show Boat is undoubtedly the real deal; a big, grand, hugely impressive slice of classical musical theatre writ large and executed with scope and grandeur that nevertheless displays extraordinary attention to detail.
Kidderminster Shuttle


Sheer entertainment in true Broadway style transforms the Théâtre du Châtelet into a boat on the Mississippi…One leaves the theatre revived, with a spring in your step and your head brimming with music


Every step you take from the theatre the more and more you begin to think and love everything about the show you just saw… It is simply the best show I’ve seen this year.
Buzz, South Wales Culture



“Why Show Boat? Why, in this day and age when we have situations and stories of our own, should this story be of any relevance to us? The longer I’ve worked on this piece and the deeper my creative team and I have delved, the more interesting and meaningful the piece has become.

Together with Porgy and Bess, this is possibly the classical musical that has the most telling reverberations for the South African situation. It deals with haves and have-nots, the arrogance of the advantaged, and their ignorance regarding poverty and racial discrimination. There is the hope of change all the way through. But, ultimately, as has been the case throughout history, while change is advantageous to some, for those most in need it is ultimately not experienced.

This perception of the piece may give the impression that it is grim and depressing, but as we have seen from Show Boat’s performance history, it works on many levels outside of the political. Florenz Ziegfeld, the original producer, was known for his Follies and dance extravaganzas. Although he gave Kern and Hammerstein the opportunity to create a challenging and visionary book musical, was he perhaps nervous of both the political content and the text and story? Perhaps, being the commercially minded man he was, he decided that, wherever possible, highly theatrical and visually exciting ‘showstoppers’

were to be inserted. Or was it Kern and Hammerstein who decided to create something both serious and showy, gritty and glamorous?

In Show Boat, we, as audiences, are excited and enchanted by the all-American Chicago World Fair.  We are thrilled by the explosion of the modern age in dances like the Charleston and the Black Bottom.  We are transported by the nostalgic and lyrical masterpieces of Make Believe and You Are Love. Yet, underlying all of this, we hear constant voices and reminders, which reflect shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations.  This timeless piece has stood its ground and has appealed for over 80 years.  We trust we can give you the fun and frivolity, the thrill and enjoyment, and the pain and passion of a beautifully crafted musical.”                                                                                                        Janice Honeyman