i was leery of spending [money] on this version of showboat when i already had two other versions of it, but i am glad i did. this three cd boxed set provides the most complete version of the show and gives you the best sense of what jerome kern and oscar hammerstein had in mind for their epic 1927 broadway opera.
more than ever, after listening to this set, i am convinced that showboat, the first real broadway show, is still the best. were it ever to be done the way it was envisioned, it would be too long and controversial, but at the same time, cathartic and overwhelming. it would be too much for an overly sensitive and overly dulled and sated audience to handle.
at first i did not think i would like all the talking before and after the songs, but i got used to it and, with the musical bridges, it provides the context of the songs, continuity and a virtually complete story, like opera sets do.
i unqualifiedly recommend frederica von stade, the best magnolia since jan clayton, and also teresa stratas as julie. the other voices are good enough; some of the previous male leads, Gaylord and joe on earlier versions have maybe been better (robeson's and warfield's 'ol'man river' are still tops), but there is no bad voice on here, unless you count nancy culp as parthey -- she sounds like a cross between julia child and mr. bill, absolutely ridiculous.
the third cd in this set is a grab bag of various songs cut and pasted since the show was first performed, historical footnotes to an epic that started out as our musical 'gone with the wind', but which became more of a shallow minstrel show as producers and directors grew leery of its harsh racial content and did not know what to make of it.
i recommend you buy this if you collect versions of showboat or want to get a sense of what the show as originally conceived is really about, or just want some extended listening to beautiful music, beautifully arranged and performed.