When the proverbial ship comes in to Marseilles in the opening scene of The Count of Monte Cristo, big changes are in store for our hero and ship's mate, Edmond Dantes (Nathaniel Nesheim-Case). Not only is he about to haul in his beloved Mercedes (Christine Weber), but he's about to be named captain of the ship Pharaon by fleet owner Madame Morel (Elizabeth Griffith). His winning streak is short-lived, though, and a web of conspiracy lands him in prison for 18 years, during which time Mercedes is squired by her icky cousin Fernand (Jason Rojas), who, naturally, had a major hand in getting Edmond thrown in the pokey in the first place. This Peter Moore-directed adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's story flows along with easy assurance and tongue firmly planted in cheek, and the all-student cast throws itself into the proceedings with melodramatic enthusiasm. The meaty roles here are, of course, the villains, and Christopher Kehoe as the acerbic Danglars and Stuart Gates as the entirely venal Villefort join Rojas in painting outsized portraits of free-flowing wickedness. The second act is primarily preoccupied with Edmond's drawn-out and protracted revenge against his three tormenters, with Nesheim-Case triumphantly counting out their demise one by one. This is profoundly silly stuff, in other words, and quite a blast (I took a seven-year-old, who hung in there for the entire two hours and 15 minutes). Between each scene is a musical vaudeville number, taking on such weighty matters as Minnesota, the moon, and a multicolored beauty pageant. What makes it all work is that the young cast is in on the joke without making the show itself a source of humor; the bad guys react to booing and hissing from the audience with scowls and grimaces, and the ensemble hoofs through the musical interludes as though auditioning for a prized role. Everyone knows they're there for some harmless silliness, in other words, and it's delivered with a contagious sense of fun, obvious relish, and a surplus of sharpness.
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO the Showboat Players; at the Minnesota Centennial Showboat through August 23 651.227.1100