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Two U student actors.

University of Minnesota student actors John Skelley (as Kid Harrigan) and Courtney Roche (as Mary Jane Jenkins). "Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway" plays through August 26, 2006.

Money or love

University of Minnesota Showboat Players perform 'Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway' on a paddleboat

By Pauline Oo

June 16, 2006

Through his musicals, George M. Cohan helped build Broadway theater as we know it today. He wrote more than 40 Broadway plays and musical comedies and was known as "the man who owned Broadway" in the decade before World War 1. This summer, the University of Minnesota Showboat Players will celebrate Cohan and his legendary work with one of his most widely praised musicals, "Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway."

This vaudeville hit, which premiered in 1906, tells the tale of housemaid Mary Jane Jenkins, who, after unexpectedly inheriting a fortune, is forced to choose love or money as she develops a romance with the wise-cracking Kid Harrigan. The story, as with most of Cohan's works, is told through music and mystery that will tickle your fancy and rattle your funny bone. The name of the musical comes from its location--the city of New Rochelle, New York, which is only a forty-five minute train ride from Broadway.

"Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway" will be pure entertainment, or "one big olio (a musical interlude)," as show director and former head of the University Opera Theatre Vern Sutton calls it, because it is a direct reflection of what Cohan brought to the stage 100 years ago. "This play matches the Minnesota Centennial Showboat's vaudeville-like setting perfectly, as many early musical hits played circuits that included showboats," says Sutton, who played the role of Kid Harrigan nearly 40 years ago. In other words, you'll get a realistic taste of theater in the late 1890s, the period in which the musical is set.

And true to the vaudeville style, audiences will be prompted by the Showboat Players to interact and sing along.

The showboat

The Minnesota Centennial Showboat has been a landmark of the University of Minnesota and the theatre department for almost 50 years. The showboat, with its 220-seat, Victorian-style jewel box theater, is owned and operated through a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Padelford Packet Boat Co. It is permanently docked at Harriet Island, opposite downtown St. Paul. To learn more, read The Showboat story or listen to a University of Minnesota Moment.

Since 1958, the Showboat Players have entertained more than 600,000 people with gripping dramas, mesmerizing mysteries, and laugh-out-loud olios on a docked paddleboat along the Mississippi River. The company consists of University of Minnesota students, who are paid competitively for their work as actors, managers, and designers. This year's cast includes 13 students from the department of theatre arts and dance and the School of Music. The Minnesota Centennial Showboat (see sidebar) and the U of M Showboat Players are programs of the department, located on the U's Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis.

"Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway" runs from June 16 to August 26. Tickets range from $16 (show only) to $49.90 (dinner included). Evening performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinee performances are 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. To order tickets, call the Padelford Packet Boat Co. at 651-227-1100 or see Showboat tickets

Don't miss Also on the Showboat this summer (July 10 to August 23) is a second cast of Showboat Players, who will debut a puppet-based performance titled "Old Four Eyes Mississippi Panorama." The show, an adaptation of a piece by humorist and playwright Kevin Kling, is intended for audiences young and old. It is being developed in partnership with Michael Sommers and Open Eye Figure Theatre.

The U's theatre department will host workshops following select shows where the actors will work with school groups to make puppets. (This is the second year such an educational component has been added to a regular Showboat performance.) Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 1p.m. The $8 tickets (free for children under five) are only available 30 minutes before the curtain call. There are no advanced sales for single tickets. For information and educational groups, call 612-625-4001.