After attending the production of Under the Gaslights, of the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat on August 13, 2016...
How have I lived in St. Paul for nearly 20 years and not known about the Showboat?
The energy of this production alone blows the top off of the riverfront. The cast is all-in, with a no-holds-barred, full-blown enthusiasm for this unabashedly melodramatic production. It is clear that every member of the cast enjoyed this show as much as the audience; I have not had this much fun at a show in decades.
The single adjustment that today's audience must make is to the assumptions, expectations, and syntax of the 19th century melodrama. It is the script of the play itself that makes this necessary. Chalk it up to a true "suspension of disbelief." Once one is there, however, there are no regrets. The cast gives it their all - as convincing as one can be with this type of script - with voice, action and expressions all enabling a temporary return to experience a well-to-do atmosphere of 150 years ago.
In fact, even if one did not particularly enjoy the deliberately and beautifully over-played melodrama, the olios alone would justify seeing this show. These musical interludes, which occur a half-dozen times as brief respites from the primary plot, provide opportunities for the cast to temporarily enter a different realm. From the dancing solo of "The Bowery" in the first Act, to the wildly campy "Trio of Insect Songs" in the second act, the audience is treated to a level of comic relief reminiscent of, on the one hand, Shakespeare's short scenes, and on the other, the between-innings antics of the Saint Paul Saints.
This is the last year of the Centennial Showboat. If you live in this area and have not been to one, you owe it to yourself to get down there in the next few days.