Final season for Centenniel Showboat

The showboat will be sold in the near future due to a fall in ticket sales.

by Annalise Gall

The University of Minnesota announced last Monday that 60 performances of the 19th-century melodrama “Under the Gaslight” will be the theater department’s farewell shows on the school’s Minnesota Centennial Showboat.
The boat, which is docked on the Mississippi River at Harriet Island in downtown St. Paul, will eventually be sold to an undetermined buyer, a College of Liberal Arts press release said. 
Ticket sales entirely financed the boat’s operating costs, but sales have fallen since the 2008 economic recession, theatre arts and dance department Chair Marcus Dilliard said.
Though the showboat drew a loyal crowd of retired Twin Cities residents and families with young kids, Dilliard said some attendees lacked the expendable income to continue showing support.
He said he hopes the boat’s next owner will continue to host the University’s theater department.
“It’s always sad to see a theater not being used,” Dilliard said. 
University students who’ve taken part in showboat performances typically log up to 100 on-stage appearances over a summer, theatre arts and dance professor Matt Lefebvre said.
Showboat performances were typically 19th-century melodramas, he said, which gave students the opportunity to act in a setting different than one in an on-campus theater.
“It’s an opportunity to work on something really unique,” Lefebvre said. 
Katherine Fried, a junior in the University’s Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, performed on the boat the summer after her first year as Agnes Carew in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” She’ll star in “Under the Gaslight” this summer, she said.
“It’s a love story, but it’s got kind of an ‘Oliver Twist’ twist,” Fried said. 
The show, which was also the boat’s first production in 1958, will run from July 7 to Aug. 27.
The original showboat, named General John Newton, served as a military vessel from 1899 until the University bought it in 1957. 
Though it burned down 16 years ago shortly after being restored, the school, along with the city of St. Paul and the Padelford Riverboat Company, rebuilt a boat and named it “Whiting” after the late 1944 theater department head, Frank M. Whiting.
“It’s the end of an era,” Lefebvre said.