The Minnesota Centennial Showboat has opened another season and, for at least the fourth time since it started presenting plays in 1958, they are doing a vampire-themed show. The first was staged in 1978: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was the first Showboat production that I ever attended. They have done Dracula at least two more times since then, but this year the Showboat is going with a Scottish kilt-wearing vampire named Lord Ruthven in a play by J.R. Plance titled The Vampire! Peter Moore directs this melodrama written in 1820 involving a Scottish vampire who must drink the blood of a virgin bride every month or perish.
It is a show with first-rate songs, cheesy but clever technical devices, and a melodrama that starts out slow but picks up some steam in the second act. For those of you who have never attended a summer Showboat production, they seek to recreate the old-time melodramas where the villain is obvious, the hero is good-hearted, the damsel is in distress, and good wins out in the end. The audience is encouraged to boo the villain and cheer the hero.
This production provides an evening of lighthearted entertainment on the river. All of the actors are University of Minnesota students, and the large ensemble do a valiant effort to recreate this dated vampire tale. Ryan Colbert plays a handsome, menacing vampire, with the cape and diabolical laughter necessary for a convincing villain. Joseph Pyffereon plays Lord Ronald, who seems a bit dim since he has no qualms about marrying his daughter to a man he once saw die. It’s only after seeing Lord Ruthven die a second time and then come back to life that Lord Ronald thinks something is amiss. Michael Fell is the hero Robert (a role normally played by Zach Keenan), who also has his own near death experience. Charlotte Calvert plays the bewildered Lady Margaret, daughter of Lord Ronald, who is betrothed to Lord Ruthven. India Gurley plays Effie, who is to be married to Robert and, thus, is a potential victim of Lord Ruthven. Aeysha Kinnuen is Bridget, the saucy maid to Lady Margaret, who provides the comedic relief in this melodrama.
The highpoint of the production is Vern Sutton’s direction of the olios. Olios are short musical interludes that have nothing to do with the melodrama and were originally designed to “relieve” the intensity of the melodrama. The olios in this production are first-rate and overshadow the melodrama. Early in the production in “The Showboat Belt-Off,” four of the women cast members shine as competing divas each belting out tunes in what is easily the most enjoyable scene in the production. Emily Grodzik brings great humor and intensity to her olio numbers, as does Tim Murry in “The Might Vox Humana.” In keeping with the Scottish theme of the melodrama, the entire cast joins in a rousing “Scottish Finale” at the end.
Scenery and properties designer Meg Kissel does a fantastic job with cheesy technical effects, including humorous rolling waves of blue fabric with tiny fishermen rowing boats in the distance and the hero being carried away with the current. Costume designer Jonathan Singer does a commendable job on the costumes, including the outlandish dresses used in the olio “A Highland Extravaganza.”
For the total Showboat experience, I recommend arriving when the boat opens an hour before show time. Drinks can be purchased and tables are available outside on the second level where there is a stunning view of the St. Paul skyline.