Make Believe (Jerome Kern song)
In the show, it is first sung as a duet by the characters Gaylord Ravenal, a handsome riverboat gambler, and the teenage Magnolia Hawks, an aspiring performer and daughter of the show boat captain, soon after their meeting in Act I. It reveals that they are smitten with each other almost immediately upon meeting and sets the tone for the contrasts between the ideal “make believe” world of the young lovers and the harsh realities of life that they will encounter throughout the story.
In Act II, Ravenal sings it to his little daughter Kim, just before he deserts her and Magnolia because of his compulsive gambling. He tells Kim to sing it whenever she is lonely and to pretend he has never been away.
The song was introduced by Norma Terris and Howard Marsh. It was not performed in the 1929 part-talkie film of Show Boat. For film, it was sung by Irene Dunne and Allan Jones in the 1936 version of the musical, by Tony Martin and Kathryn Grayson in the 1946 Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By, and by Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in the 1951 version of Show Boat.
In the 1951 film, instead of singing it to Kim just before he leaves, Ravenal sings it to her when he meets her for the first time after being away for several years - the exact reverse of the situation in the original show and the 1936 film version. He has finally returned and now asks her to pretend that he has never been away.
The song has since become a standard and been recorded by numerous musical artists, including Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee & Patrice Munsel. Barbra Streisand recorded the song for The Third Album.
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