Show Boat is a 1927 musical in two acts, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber's bestselling novel of the same name, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over a span of nearly fifty years, from 1880 to 1927. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love. The musical contributed such classic songs as "Ol' Man River", "Make Believe", and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man".
The arrival of Show Boat on Broadway was a watershed moment in the history of American musicals. Compared to the trivial and unrealistic operettas, light musical comedies, and "Follies"-type musical revues that defined Broadway in the 1890s and early 20th century, Show Boat "was a radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness." According to The Complete Book of Light Opera:
"Here we come to a completely new genre – the musical play as distinguished from musical comedy. Now... the play was the thing, and everything else was subservient to that play. Now... came complete integration of song, humor and production numbers into a single and inextricable artistic entity."
The quality of the musical was recognized immediately by the critics, and Show Boat is frequently revived. Awards for Broadway shows did not exist in 1927 when the original production of the show premiered, nor in 1932, when its first revival was staged, but recent revivals of Show Boat have won both the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical (1995) and the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival (1991).