Magnolia, at the beginning of the musical, is a rather naive teenager whose dream is to become an actress on the stage, such as the leading ladies she watches on her father's show boat. Magnolia is friends with Julie, the leading lady for the current show on the Cotton Blossom, and looks up to her every move as being her dream for the future, much to her mother's dismay. Julie teaches Magnolia "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" as they discuss the implications of falling in love with the "river fellow" Magnolia had just met.
Years later, Magnolia, having fallen on hard times and been abandoned by the "river fellow" with whom she had realized her dream of being a leading lady on the stage, finds herself understanding the meaning of the lyrics of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in a new way. She was able to put great emotion and feeling into her singing of the song because she was now living and dealing with the complications it describes.