The spirit of showboat theatre is being renewed once again this year with “The Count of Monte Cristo” aboard the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. Young and old alike can experience this classic tale of love, heroism, and revenge by Alexandre Dumas. This thrilling melodrama, directed by Peter Moore, graces the showboat’s stage at a very significant time in the Minnesota Centennial Showboat’s history, its 50th anniversary.
The inception of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat was in 1958, when the University of Minnesota purchased, and renovated into a floating theatre, the General John Newton, a 175-foot-long paddlewheeler for $1 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was then renamed the Minnesota Centennial Showboat to tie into celebrating the state’s Centennial.
Every summer since the Centennial celebrations, the Showboat would travel throughout Minnesota with its University student actors, the Showboat Players, bringing excitement and good old fashion fun to roaring audiences. Then in 1993, the Minnesota Centennial Showboat was forced to close for renovations. This, however, would lead to tragedy. On January 27, 2000 the original Minnesota Centennial Showboat was destroyed in a fire caused by an errant welding spark during the renovation process.
After the devastation of the fire, The University of Minnesota joined forces with Padelford Packet Boat Company, and with the help of generous donors, a new showboat named the Frank Whiting, was built in 2002. The new Minnesota Centennial Showboat is now permanently docked at Harriet Island across the Mississippi from Downtown St. Paul, where it is still delivering patrons old time theatre that’s big time fun.
The fun experienced on the Showboat throughout its 50 years will be commemorated on July 12th, 2008 during the Minnesota Centennial Showboat’s 50th Anniversary Reunion. Alumni, U of M Showboat faculty, and friends will celebrate and reminisce the 50 years the Showboat has spent on the Mississippi with a river cruise, dinner, and a performance of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” There will also be a 50th Anniversary program with special guests, and a chance for those, who have been involved with the Showboat throughout its vibrant past, to relive all the memories made aboard the vessel.
The Minnesota Centennial Showboat’s history makes the 50th Anniversary all that more poignant. It shows the vitality and spirit of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat to be able to go from ashes and ruin to celebrating its 50th year. All the support that has ensured the Showboat continues is due in big part to the students from the University of Minnesota Theatre Department who were given their first taste of professional theatre aboard the Showboat, the staff and faculty who have dedicated much of their professional talents to the boat, and the devoted patrons who hold this unique style of theatre in such high esteem that they return year after year.
To experience the magic and whimsical fun of yesteryear on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat reserve tickets by calling 651.227.1100 or by visiting the website www.showboat.umn.edu. Performances are every evening Tuesday through Saturday, and there are matinees on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Dinner and river cruise options are also available with show tickets.