Production has all the makings of a melodrama

Friday, August 29, 2003

Tourist groups who come to Cape Girardeau by riverboat or tour bus now can be entertained by a ready-to-watch show if they tire of walking around downtown. "The Mighty Mississippi Melodrama or ... Do I Smell a River Rat" is what it sounds like: 45 minutes of extravagance, music, romance and at least the threat of agony. Booing the villain and cheering the hero are not required but are encouraged.

The first public performances are being presented this weekend.

The show was the brainchild of Port Cape owner Dennis "Doc" Cain and Dr. Roseanna Whitlow. Performing for tours required casting at least two people in each role to make sure a performance can be scheduled on short notice.

Whitlow, a professor in the Department of Mass Communication at Southeast Missouri State University, has directed many productions. Her own play for young adults, "Thistle Blossoms," has been produced more than 100 times all over the country.

She has incorporated most of the elements of a melodrama: a hero named Noble Heartland (Joe Class/Rich Behring), the villainous Doctor DeVille DePew (Tim Van Patten/Steve Ruppel), who is foisting off a stolen moonshine recipe as tonic, a defenseless widow named Granny Cane (Sandra Shaw/Meredith Elfrink) and floozy Ruby Ruthless (Ruth Sauerbrunn-Winstead/Dolly Dambach/Priscilla Kasten).

There's also a damsel in distress, Granny's granddaughter Sugar, though she never appears on stage. Neither does Sugar's mother, Raisin Cane.

Though melodramas are more about actions than words, this one has some fun with the latter. When DePew threatens to finish off the granddaughter with TNT, he growls, "The banks of the Mississippi will be sugarcoated."

There are also references to local landmarks such as the Diversion Channel and Aquamsi Street.

A recent dress rehearsal offered a look at one of the casts, which was uniformly good. Sauerbrunn-Winstead has a great big sassy voice and uses it on such songs as "Stormy Weather," "Nobody Loves you When You're Down and Out," and "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home."

Van Patten, by day a courier for Airborne Express, makes an enthusiastic villain, and Class has perfected the hero's required posed smile. Shaw is just right as Granny Cane.

The set design is by Tim Roth, with lights and sound by Dean Winstead.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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