|Photo by Mark Vancleave|
|Lord Ruthven (Ryan Colbert) and his rival, Robert, (Zach Keenan) in The Vampire!|
The Showboat Players are going seriously old school this summer, presenting The Vampire! a melodrama first produced in 1820. That means the piece predates Bram Stoker's famous fanged one by decades.
"No one holds up a cross. They can look in a mirror. The only requirement is that the vampire has to wed a virgin bride every month before the moon sets," says director Peter Moore about J.R. Planche's play. "He is a classic melodrama villain, though we're not sure why the playwright set it in Scotland, which doesn't have any vampire traditions."
Moore is directing a group of University of Minnesota students who are responsible for the entire summer run, from performing onstage to wrangling props to running the house for every performance.
The play "is full of spectacle. It's not going to win any literary awards, but there is magic, sword fights, and lightning bolts dropping from the sky," says Moore.
The key for the actors is to play it all straight. "The audiences who watched it at the time didn't find it antiquated," Moore says. "It's like opera without the music. The passions are really big, and they have embraced the style. It's really been fun to work on it and watch these kids take it and run with it."
It did take some time for the actors to take a hold of the acting, which calls for grander emotions than is the norm on modern stages. "In the acting styles these days, they are taught to be subtle," he says. "I could see them as they caught on to and embraced the idea."
Building an appropriate melodrama also takes contributions from the scene shop. A lot of the settings are established with beautifully painted backdrops, while Moore challenged the builders to use appropriate 1820s effects. There is still plenty of space for spectacle including constructing a trap door in the floor and flying someone in for a scene.
Part of the showboat tradition is to have olios -- short musical moments between the scenes -- for each production. Once again, veteran music director and performer Vern Sutton has taken on the task of assembling the songs for these pieces.
"Vern goes to the Minneapolis library and finds all these old vaudeville songs," Moore says. "There are songs you don't hear other places, like a fox hunting song we found that is just charming."
There is also a "belt off" among four women in the cast, all trying to top the other with their songs. Another piece is the poem "The Lost Chord," set to music by Arthur Sullivan. The play itself features Scottish folk songs arranged by Joseph Hayden.
The Vampire! is "a unique little time capsule and makes for a very light, pleasant summer night. It's a little look into what thrilled us," Moore says.
IF YOU GO:
Minnesota Centennial Showboat
Hariett Island, St. Paul
Friday through August 25
For information, call 651.227.1100 or visit online
Harriet Island, 200 Drive Justus Ohage Blvd. (across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Paul), St. Paul, MN