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Christopher Kehoe and Nathaniel Nesheim-Case

Edmond Dantes (right, played by Nathaniel Nesheim-Case) and his nemesis Danglars (Christopher Kehoe) battle it out in The Count of Monte Cristo, which runs through August 23.

Cheering the hero and booing the bad guys

Showboat offers The Count of Monte Cristo for 50th anniversary season

By Pauline Oo

June 20, 2008

Edmond Dantes is about to marry his beloved Mercedes and become captain of a sea-worthy vessel. But three jealous enemies conspire in his downfall. Dantes is accused of treason and left to rot at Chateau d'If, the Alcatraz of France. His rivals become rich and more powerful. In fact, one of them, Fernand Mondego, ends up marrying the lovely Mercedes, who believes her sweetheart to be dead.

The Count of Monte Cristo, based on Alexandre Dumas's novel of the same name, is this summer's melodramatic offering on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat. As in years past, students from the University of Minnesota theatre arts and dance department are doing it all, from maintenance to ticket sales and ushering to performing. The Showboat Players, as the cast and crew are known, are paid competitively for their work, and they opened their very first season on the Mississippi in 1958. The intention of the Showboat was to continue the tradition of late 19th century showboating, or floating stages, and to give students a taste of what it was like to be part of a professional company.

"[The Showboat is] a really fun place to perform," says University senior Elizabeth Griffith, who plays Madame Morel, the owner of a merchant fleet, in The Count of Monte Cristo. "We're on the river right in the heart of St. Paul with an exciting show and wonderful friends, preserving a little bit of our American theatrical past. Also, performing in [this] manner is such a new thing for us as students. In classes at the University, we are taught an awful lot about Stanislavski, Meisner, LeCoq, and many other ways 'in' to acting, but rarely taught the style that we use on the Showboat. Our directors don't ask us to approach the characters psychologically, they instead teach us what Fanny Brice, Edwin Booth, The Lunts, and greats like John Barrymore would have done."

Griffith, a familiar face from last summer's production (Sherlock's Last Case), is also a crowd pleaser in the olios--those unique laugh-out-loud vignettes performed between seat-grabbing scenes to relieve the tension. In "Look Out, Opera Singers!" Griffith's ability to play both a bad and a first-rate singer is a shining example of the star quality and talent many Showboat Players possess.

Showboat party

The University of Minnesota Showboat will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a reunion party July 12 on Harriet Island. The event will include a matinee performance of The Count of Monte Cristo and a dinner and river cruise on the Jonathan Padelford paddleboat. The cost is $35; call 612-625-4001. Open to the first 200 registrations. To learn more, see Showboat reunion.

For more on its history, read "The Showboat Story" or listen to the News Service interview with Sherry Wagner-Henry, managing director of university theatre.

"[Switching between characters in the play and olios] can be a little daunting at first, because we are essentially rehearsing two shows at once," says Christopher Kehoe, the villainous Danglars in The Count of Monte Cristo and the bitingly arrogant Sherlock Holmes last year. "But by the time we open, they've been spliced together in just about everyone's mind. The script and the olios combined are one production, and I think they compliment each other nicely."

And if acting, dancing, and singing weren't enough, Kehoe, who recently graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Theatre Arts, and fellow performer Nathaniel Nesheim-Case (the dashing Edmund Dantes) are convincing swordsmen. In the final scene, some audience members found themselves saucer-eyed and gaped-mouth every time Dantes parried a blow from Danglars.

"I could write a novel about the wonderfully unique working climate on the Showboat, which is ironic as a lot of theatre folk may (and do) dismiss it as a heavily commercialized, fluffy venue that panders to a wide audience," says Kehoe. "[But] what the Showboat has a leg-up on [as opposed to] nearly every other theater in town, is a true fulfillment of a communion [between audience and actors]."

Their melodramatic style, he adds, requires an active communication with the audience. "We are trying to incite visceral reactions from you," Kehoe says, "and of course they start kind of ironic (hyuk-hyuk; boo), but by the end of the show, that irony has often become a full-fledged engagement."

And that's exactly what happened at the opening weekend of The Count of Monte Cristo. The audience was spot on--as it has been for the past 50 years--when it came to hissing the bad guys and cheering the good guy at just the right time.

The Count of Monte Cristo runs through August 23. Evening performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinee performances are 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Tickets are $20 to $25, with a special $2 discount off all dates except for Friday and Saturday evenings. Discounts are available by telephone only (651-227-1100) and cannot be used on previous purchases or in combination with other offers. Patrons must ask for the "U of M discount."