'The Vampire!' misses balance between thrills and music

Sometimes, summer fun can be too light and slight, as is the case with this summer's University of Minnesota Showboat Players production of The Vampire! The actors are game, but the actual melodrama at the center of it all basically exists as a distraction to the far more entertaining between-scene olios.

Written in 1820, J.R. Plache's play is notable mainly because it predates Bram Stoker's creation by decades. That means the usual tricks -- no reflection, holy water, staying out of churches -- don't work. In fact, our vamp -- the dastardly Lord Ruthven -- needs to marry a virgin bride before the moon sets to retain his undead good looks.

So, on the windswept moors of Scotland, Ruthven races the clock to "win" his bride, challenged along the way by an assortment of spirits and good guys, with little doubt as to where it is going to end up.

That's actually fine and good, except that the characters never have the time to inhabit two dimensions, let alone fully engage with the audience. Each of the half-dozen acts start out pretty short, and the actors fly through them as if it is a race to get done by 9:30. Director Peter Moore and the company would have been well served to add a little breathing space in the show, in part to let the story unfold at a better pace, but also to work some more humor out of the piece.

Instead, the whole thing wizzes by to the point that I was having trouble keeping track of the status of the alive-again/dead-again Lord Ruthven, and what exactly he was asking those he had in thrall to do.

Thankfully, the olios make up for the shortcoming of the actual play. These musical interludes, selected, arranged, and directed by Vern Sutton, range from a piece that takes cues from the Scottish setting (and includes the dance sensation "The Edinboro Wiggle") to a jolly interpretation of an Arthur Sullivan song that centers on a church organ "voiced" by members of the cast. Returning guests will also be pleased to hear that "The Frankfurter," one of the showcases from last year, makes a return with giant hotdog costume intact.

The young cast of University of Minnesota students also brings plenty of enthusiasm to all of the proceedings, led by Ryan Colbert as the dastardly Ruthven (and the giant singing hotdog; that's good versatility). The company especially, ahem, relishes the various songs, willingly going into whatever mad place Sutton and the design team send them.


The Vampire!
Minnesota Centennial Showboat, Hariett Island, St. Paul
Through Aug. 25
For information, call 651.227.1100 or visit online.
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Minnesota Centennial Showboat

200 Dr. Justus Ohage Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55107



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