Spotlight: Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway

A boatful of Midwestern college kids staging a show on the bubbling brown Mississippi River is a good deal more than Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway. But the University of Minnesota Showboat Players do their good-natured best to dress up George M. Cohan's 1906 cornball musical and add a smattering of patriotic tunes from Cohan's songbook. The plot, such as it is, involves Thomas Bennett (Galen Murphy-Hoffman), a New York street scrapper who has just inherited a million bucks from a fortuitously deceased uncle. Bennett decamps for his estate in New Rochelle, having decided to celebrate his new wealth by marrying two-bit showgirl Flora Dora (Valeri Mudek, hilarious throughout). Additional baggage comes in the lumpy form of her horrible mother (Kristin Kenning). In a nod to keeping it real, he brings along chum Kid Harrigan (John Skelley, the rogue with a heart of gold), who promptly falls for maid Mary (Courtney Roche). The story is dreadful, and no real attempt here is made to pretend otherwise--the audience is encouraged to cheer, hiss, and do everything short of lob rotten vegetables. During a preview, for instance, the crowd jeered at an obvious applause line about Bennett "putting his foot down" and being "the man of the house," throwing off the cast until their sense of historical irony set in. The real attraction is the undeniably catchy tunes, handled here with adeptness and a convincing sense of fun. Set to David Alstead's driving piano, the songs are a crash course in a particular corner of turn-of-the-previous-century American musical theater: "Harrigan," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "So Long Mary" are highlights. Vern Sutton directs the cast to crisp performances. (During "When We Are M-A-Double-R-I-E-D," the players struggle mightily with a complicated flip-card gag. The humor mainly springs from the fact that they actually pull it off). Finally, the night closes with "Yankee Doodle Boy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag," the fervor of which can be viewed as ironic after a story about class inequity, mendacity, greed, and the art of the rip-off. If you're inclined to look at things that way, that is.