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Minnesota Centennial Showboat

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Title: Minnesota Centennial Showboat  
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Subject: Saint Paul, Minnesota, John Newton (engineer)
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Minnesota Centennial Showboat

Minnesota Centennial Showboat is a traditional riverboat theatre docked at Harriet Island Regional Park on the banks of the Mississippi River in Downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota. The showboat contains an intimate jewelbox theatre that seats 225. The interior is decorated to keep in time with the Victorian Era style that is expected of most showboats. The Minnesota Centennial Showboat is ran through a partnership with the University of Minnesota Theatre Department and the Padelford Boat Company. The showboat has been a long time tradition with the University beginning in 1958. The University Theatre utilizes the showboat as a learning opportunity for its students to experience professional theatre.

The Showboat Players

The Showboat Players are a troupe of performers that are cast exclusively from students at the University of Minnesota. They perform a wide range of melodramas and comedies, plays most commonly viewed by 19th century audiences. The Showboat Players are most known for their whimsical olios. Many well-known performers today received their first taste of professional theatre as a Showboat Player; Loni Anderson, Linda Kelsey, Peter MacNicol, Peter Michael Goetz, and Jon Cranney to name a few.


Olios are musical entertainment pieces performed either between scenes or as an afterpiece to relieve the tension created by the melodrama and its serious storyline. University of Minnesota Professor Robert Darrell Moulton, who created many of the olios performed, found it important to have the olios be in contrast to the play, but be in tune with its stylistically and thematically. The olios mainly depend on the performers' strengths; they may also use a clever "gimmick" or surprise. It is essential in an olio to present romance, nostalgia, color, extravagance, and affectionate fun. Olios have been a favorite among the Showboat audiences, and this is mainly due in part to Bob Moulton drawing upon his talents as a dancer, costumer, choreographer, and director.

Shows performed on the showboat

  • 1958 Under the Gaslight
  • 1959 Billy the Kid and She Stoops to Conquer
  • 1960 Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway
  • 1961 Bloomer Girl
  • 1962 Rip van Winkle and The Merry Wives of Windsor
  • 1963 Camille and Under the Gaslight
  • 1964 A Midsummer Night's Dream and Zoey, or Life in Louisiana
  • 1965 Because I Love You and Arms and the Man
  • 1966 The Great Git-Away and Fashion
  • 1967 Romeo and Juliet and Charley's Aunt
  • 1968 The Rivals and Trelawny of the "Wells"
  • 1969 The School for Scandal and The Birds
  • 1970 Lady of Lyons and Tartuffe
  • 1971 The Matchmaker and The Devil's Disciple
  • 1972 Show Boat and The Madwoman of Chaillot
  • 1973 A Midsummer Night's Dream and Stephen Foster
  • 1974 The Importance of Being Earnest and The Tavern and Trial By Jury
  • 1975 An Ideal Husband and The Magistrate
  • 1976 The Streets of New York
  • 1977 The Black Crook
  • 1978 Dracula
  • 1979 Dandy Dick
  • 1980 Charley's Aunt
  • 1981 Hazel Kirke
  • 1982 The Belle of New York
  • 1983 Florodora
  • 1984 The Count of Monte Cristo
  • 1985 The Girl of Golden West
  • 1986 Sherlock Holmes
  • 1987 The Bat
  • 1988 Down River Ramble: A Mississippi Panorama
  • 1989 Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines
  • 1990 The Moonstone
  • 1991 Dracula
  • 1992 Angel Street and The Mystery of Irma Vep
  • 1993 The Mousetrap
  • 1994 Charley's Aunt
  • 1995 Peg O' My Heart
  • 1996 The Matchmaker
  • 2002 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • 2003 Dracula
  • 2004 The Mousetrap
  • 2005 Importance of Being Earnest
  • 2006 Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway
  • 2007 Sherlock's Last Case
  • 2008 Count of Monte Cristo
  • 2009 Is There a Doctor in the House?"
  • 2010 Triumph of Love
  • 2011 The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: The Melodrama of Sweeney Todd

History of the Minnesota Centennial Showboat

The University Theatre had been thinking of purchasing a showboat for sometime, but the cost and unavailability of suitable boats prevented it from continuing the Mississippi tradition of entertainment on the river. In 1956, with the 100th Anniversary of Minnesota statehood fast approaching,University Theatre Director Frank M. Whiting judged a Miss Minnesota pageant with Tom Swain, Executive Director of the Minnesota Statehood Centennial Commission. The two discussed the idea, and both agreed a showboat would be a fitting addition to the Centennial festivities.

  • 1899 The General John Newton, a 175-foot (53┬ám)-long paddlewheeler, is commissioned. Over the years, it is used as a maritime courthouse and is visited by at least four U.S. presidents.
  • 1958 The boat is purchased by the University of Minnesota for $1 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In celebration of the state's centennial, the General John Newton is renamed and transformed into the Minnesota Centennial Showboat.
  • 1993 In need of major repairs, the Showboat closes with Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap.
  • 1994-1999 All energies are put toward the capital campaign and renovation of the Showboat. Captain Bill Bowell of Padelford Packet Boat Company indicates interest in the project, while Saint Paul Mayor Norm Coleman announces plans for Showboat's permanent home at Harriet Island Regional Park.
  • Jan. 27, 2000 Fire, set by an errant welding spark, destroys the original Centennial Showboat.
  • Dec. 8, 2000 University of Minnesota's Board of Regents approve partnership between the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, and the Padelford Packet Boat Company to build a brand new showboat.
  • April 17, 2002 The Minnesota Centennial Showboat arrives at its new docking site at Harriet Island Regional Park. Hundreds are there to welcome its triumphant return.
  • July 4, 2002 The new Showboat, named the Frank Whiting, opens Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • June 2003 Dracula, directed by Charles Nolte, opens to sold-out houses.
  • April 2004 The Minnesota Centennial Showboat wins the "Tourism Partner of the Year" award from the St.Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau.
  • June 2004 Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap returns to the Showboat
  • August 2004 A joint scholarship formed between the Padelford Company and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance awards its first recipients.
  • January 2005 Minnesota Meetings and Events magazine names the U of M Showboat Players "Best Entertainment" and the Minnesota Centennial Showboat "Most Unique Venue"
  • June 2005 Directed by alum Jon Cranney, The Importance of Being Earnest opens June 17.
  • June 2006 Directed by alum Vern Sutton, Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway opened June 16.
  • June 2007 Directed by Stephen Kanee, Sherlock's Last Case opens June 15.


Minnesota Centennial Showboat Web site

C. Lance Brockman. The New Minnesota Centennial Showboat: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Red, White and Blue. Vol. 38 No. 4 (Fall 2002): 38

University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. Minnesota Centennial Showboat 2002 Commemorative Program.

Rachel Smoka. Minnesota Centennial Showboat: A Historical Journey.

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