Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A "Ruddy" Good Production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddygore

Also see Richard's reviews of The Light in the Piazza and Annie Get Your Gun

The Cast
The Lamplighters Music Theatre and Gilbert & Sullivan go together like peaches and cream, and their production of The Witch's Curse: Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore is no exception. This supernatural musical thriller is a harmonious piece that sparkles with flashes of Gilbert's wit and the graces of Sir Arthur Sullivan's melodiousness.

Ruddygore was first performed at the Savoy Theatre, London, on January 22nd, 1887, and London critics were not very pleased. The operetta was presented just three days after The Mikado closed at the theatre. The opinion of the audience and the critics was that this new work was not half as good as The Mikado. The opening night performance went well, up until the last twenty minutes when the audience became restless. At the fall of the curtain the first "boo" in the history of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas was heard from the gallery. The audience had never heard such an overture as this blend of light and melodramatic music prelude to the spooky goings on in the fishing village of Rederring in Cornwall. The overture was more startling than anything the audience had heard from Arthur Sullivan.

Gilbert and Sullivan met the following day to do a great deal of pruning. Gilbert rewrote one patter song and there were changes in the second act to make it more palatable to the public taste in music in the late Victorian age. Today, the operetta is considered one of the pair's most serious pieces. It can be one of the most difficult operettas to produce since there is the tricky business of bringing a portrait of ancestors to life in the second act. There has to be a multitude of costumes and uniforms of the period 1810 for the large cast.

The Lamplighters have met these challenges and are presenting a superb production of the duo's lesser known work. Sullivan's numbers are rapturously encored by the singers and the droll sallies of Gilbert's dialogue and lyrics are full of appreciative mirth. The voices of the ensemble are superb in their choral work.

Ruddygore is a tale of moral absolutes turned upside down. When inflicted with a family curse, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (F. Lawrence Ewing) fakes his death and disguises himself as simple farmer Robin Oakapple, leaving his brother Despard (Charles Martin) to carry the curse of committing one crime a day or die in agony. Before long, Robin falls in love with virtuous maiden Rose Maybud (Elena Sophia Krell), but so does his brother Richard Dauntless (John Brown) a British "tar" just home from the sea. Add to the mix a bevy of professional bridesmaids and a ghostly chorus of ancestors that you see in the second act and you have the pair's topsy-turvy recipe for fear and fun.

All of the leads have excellent vocal chops and have the fast Gilbert patter lyrics down pat. The company has installed subtitles above the stage to help the audience get all of those clever words.

Elena Sophia Knell as Rose has a sweet, warm voice in her arias. She is demur and lovable playing the virtuous county gal who wants the perfect husband. F. Lawrence Ewing as Ruthven, who is too shy to ask for Rose's hand in marriage, has a pulsating voice and is excellent with the lyrics of Mr. Gilbert.

Kathleen Moss is captivating as Mad Margaret. She has the right dramatic voice to play a woman who has gone slightly mad from the loss of her long ago intended husband. John Brown has a clear tenor voice singing the role of the British "tar" and does a sprightly hornpipe dance after singing "I shipped, d'ye see." Charles Martin as Sir Despard Murgatroyd with his full baritone voice gives an invigorating performance. Behrend J. Eilers as Sir Roderick Murgatroyd, the ghost, has a powerful vocal range singing songs in a ghostly manner. William Neil as Old Adam shows rich, deep bass vocals on his songs.

Kelly Powers and Ruth as professional bridesmaids are lively and have lovely singing voices. The complete choral work of the bridesmaids produces an angelic sound. The exact opposite can be said of the ghostly chorus in the second act, with their dirge-like voices. Peter Weller as the Victor of Rederring, a staple of the Lamplighters, once again hams it up by twirling his white mustache and doing extreme facial expression without saying or singing a word. It is the delightful hammy performance that we expect from this veteran actor.

Ruddygore played in San Francisco, Napa and Walnut Creek to appreciative audiences. The Lamplighters will be presenting Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow opening at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco on Jan 20, 2007. Later the company will present Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel in concert.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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