Aronson bringing ‘The Last Showboat’ back to the stage

Published 1:14 am Sunday, September 28, 2008

By Staff
Auditions begin today for Playhouse production
Lifestyles &Features Editor
Nearly 100 years ago, a showboat traveled up and down the waterways of eastern North Carolina, bringing entertainment to folks who might normally never have had the opportunity to enjoy live theater.
That showboat — the James Adams Floating Theater — caught the eye of writer Edna Ferber, who stayed on board for several days in 1925 researching what would become a best-selling novel. The book, “Showboat,” was later made into a popular Broadway musical as well as a motion picture.
Generations after Ferber’s curiosity was piqued by the showboat, local writer and performer Stuart Aronson was moved to write his own version of the James Adams saga.
Aronson, author of the successful “Blackbeard, Knight of the Black Flag,” was approached about writing another play that could be performed in eastern North Carolina.
The new play would ultimately be titled “The Last Showboat.”
Aronson began to research both Ferber’s work and the floating theater itself. He said he was fortunate to interview a woman who got on the boat to see a show during the 1920s.
Built in Washington in 1913, the showboat began touring the area the following year, according to Aronson. His research revealed that the James Adams Floating Theater was the only showboat to have ever played the East Coast. A huge, enclosed barge, the unusual theater lent itself to the creation of a new play.
Aronson’s was particularly intrigued by Ferber’s visit to Beaufort County when she was researching her novel.
The experience must not have been too unpleasant, since Ferber returned the following year to conduct more research.
While Ferber gleaned all the information from her visit to Bath, a publisher convinced her to change the setting of the book from North Carolina to the Mississippi River, which would supposedly have a broader appeal.
Aronson, however, stayed true to the roots of the James Adams Floating Theater when he penned his play. After several years of research, he took only about a month to write the script. And then it was showtime.
A performer himself — Aronson is a trained vocalist who has appeared on stage in Europe, Chicago, New York and with a traveling troupe — the playwright created a script that offers parts for actors ranging in age from the late teens through the 50s.
With the historic Turnage Theater back in operation, Aronson and the local theatrical group, Pamlico Playhouse Inc., decided it was time to resurrect “The Last Showboat.” Performances are scheduled for Nov. 21-23 and auditions begin today to find a suitable cast.
One prime role — that of Edna Ferber herself — has already been decided.
But since other roles remain, Aronson and the Pamlico Playhouse will hold first-round auditions this afternoon beginning at 2 p.m. at the Mid East Regional Housing Authority, located at 809 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Those auditioning will be provided a script for the readings. For more information, contact Aronson at (252) 945-1614.