Show Boat est considéré comme le tournant majeur à Broadway qui a vu le théâtre musical devenir adulte et ouvert la voie à George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, etc. Tous les compositeurs de Broadway ont avoué que Jerome Kern était à la fois leur père spirituel en tant que musicien, et le père fondateur du théâtre musical tel que nous le connaissons encore aujourd'hui.
After closing at the Ziegfeld Theatre in 1929, the original production toured extensively. The national company is notable for including Irene Dunne as Magnolia. Hattie McDaniel played Queenie in a 1933 West Coast production, joined by tenor Allan Jones as Ravenal.
Dunne was soon offered a contract by RKO and appeared in the 1936 Universal Studios film adaptation of Show Boat, as did Jones as Ravenal. It featured Charles Winninger (Cap'n Andy), Helen Morgan (Julie), Sammy White (Frank), and Francis X. Mahoney (Rubberface) repeating their original Broadway stage roles, with Hattie McDaniel joining them as Queenie.
Show Boat was revived by Ziegfeld on Broadway in 1932 at the Casino Theatre with most of the original cast, but with Paul Robeson as Joe and Dennis King as Ravenal. Further Broadway revivals were produced in 1946 (a return to the Ziegfeld Theatre); in 1948 and 1954 at New York City Center; and in 1983 at the Uris Theatre (presented by Douglas Urbanski). Other American productions include one in 1966 at the New York State Theater by the Music Theater of Lincoln Center company, and one in 1983 at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., starring Mickey Rooney as Cap'n Andy.
In 1989 the Paper Mill Playhouse of Millburn, New Jersey mounted an important revival that tried to recapture Show Boat's creators' original intentions. Described in the New York Times as coming "close to being a full visual realization of the piece as it was meant to be seen", the production restored numbers discarded from the show in the previous decades. It was directed by Robert Johanson and starred Eddie Bracken as Cap'n Andy. The Paper Mill production was preserved on videotape and broadcast on PBS.
Livent Inc. Presented the most recent major production of Show Boat on Broadway in 1994. Produced and directed by Harold Prince, it premiered in Toronto, Ontario, in 1993 prior to opening in New York on October 2, 1994, at the George Gershwin Theatre. It ran for 947 performances, Broadway's longest-running Show Boat to date. This production went on tour, playing at the Kennedy Center; and it was also staged in London and Melbourne, Australia. Prince's production revived interest in the show by tightening the book, dropping and adding songs cut in various productions, and highlighting its racial elements. Perhaps the most notable change in the score was Prince's transforming "Why Do I Love You?" from a duet between Magnolia and Ravenal to a lullaby sung by Parthy Ann to Magnolia's baby girl. The change was partly to accommodate the song's being performed by stage actress Elaine Stritch. The love duet for Magnolia and Ravenal, "I Have the Room Above Her", originally written by Kern and Hammerstein for the 1936 film, was added to the production. Two new mime and dance "Montages" in Act 2 depicted the passage of time through changing styles of dance and music.