There’s nothing I love more than sitting in a theater as the lights dim and the the credits begin to roll, particularly when it’s a classic film from the 1940’s. After the RKO Logo and the cast and technicians are listed, you get that little text on the screen that sets the scene and then … the curtain goes up. Oh right, I’m not in a movie theater, I’m at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center for The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s (GSVLOC) production of Ruddigore or The Witch’s Curse. I am a novice when it comes to Opera in general and with Gilbert & Sullivan, when you get down to the specific. I have seen the film version of The Pirates of Penzance along with the Mike Leigh film about G&S, Topsy-Turvy. I find myself somewhat at a loss to know what in Ruddigore is G&S and what was written by the company. Does G&S Operas have dialogue? According to Google they do. The fact that I cannot be sure of what dialogue was G&S and what was Director Joe Andrews additions, speaks to how successfully they have blended the original with their additions which draw on classic films from the golden age of cinema. Beginning with a pre-show original song in the style of G&S by three theater ushers about cell phones which was written by Holly Windle and Joe Andrews. Ruddigore is a show for classic film lovers like me as well as silly Opera fans. If you don’t laugh out loud several times or sit with a goofy grin on your face, you may want to check your pulse, I suspect you may be deceased.
Like all Opera’s it’s recommended that one arrive early and read through the plot synopsis, it’s less critical in this case because it’s really quite easy to understand the vocalizations in a G&S production. But the plots are also comically convoluted, so, yeah read the synopsis. In a nutshell, we are introduced to a village where they have a group of professional Bridesmaids who have been out of work for too long because the girl everyone wants to marry, Rose Maybud, hasn’t taken a husband yet. She’s in love with Robin Oakapple, and he with her. But, Rose cannot tell Robin because she lives by the rules set down in the little book of etiquette. Robin cannot tell Rose because he’s painfully shy and is living under an assumed name. He’s really Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, and should be the Baronet of Ruddigore. But, he faked his death and ran away because whoever is the Baronet of Ruddigore is compelled by a witches curse to commit a crime everyday or face an agonizing death. Believing Ruthven to be dead, the Baronet title has fallen to his younger brother Despard. Robin enlists the help of his friend Dick Dauntless, they call him Dick because it’s short for Richard and he’s earned it. Dick agrees to tell Rose how Robin feels about her but once he meets her, he decides to woo her for himself. That’s about the first ten minutes. Seriously, arrive a little early and read the synopsis.
The production is mounted with, by my count, 35 performers and a full orchestra. It really is something to see and hear. I usually like to highlight one or two of the leads and comment on any of the smaller roles that either really worked or didn’t. With a cast like this, it’s difficult to single anyone out as they are all top notch. Seth Tychon Steidl as Robin and Paul Willis Jr. as Dick capture the leading man personas of the classic films they are emulating. Steidl dialing in on the melodramatic influences and Willis hammy it up as the broadly smiling matinee cheeseball. Sarah Wind Richens as Rose nimbly plays up the screwball aspects while coming across as probably the most sensible one in the room. All of them have a blast with the songs and the knowing little winks to the everything from The Wizard of Oz and Singing in the Rain to the gangster pics of Edward G. Robinson. A quick little tip of the hat to Deb Haas who’s Dame Hannah, Rose’s Aunt was a standout in a supporting role.
Joe Andrews who directed the production and is also credited with the concept and additional dialogue has really put together a hell of a show. Andrews doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to the concept of staging it like a classic film. From the pre-show Ushers and projected opening credits to “Let’s all go to the Lobby” clip that plays at intermission. Pulling the perfect film quotes and staging different scenes in style of old movies as well. It was hard not to picture Anchors Aweigh when Dick and his fellow sailors do their opening dance. Music Director Randal A. Buikema and his orchestra do justice to Sullivan’s wonderful and lively score. There were comments by my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers about a strobe effect and it’s mentioned in the program, but it never materialized at the performance I attended. Set design by Larry Rostad was perhaps the one aspect that could have been improved upon, more in the execution than in the design. It had something of a highschool quality to it in the almost caricaturesque painting of the stone walls and bookcases. Still, I’d rather have the budget go towards the full orchestra than painted flats any day of the week.
Ruddigore is really a wonderfully creative concept beautifully executed by GSVLOC. So much fun, this is an opera for the whole family. It’s only running for one more weekend 4/1 thru 4/3, for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://gsvloc.org/home-2/tickets/ticket-order-startoa/.
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