It’s an operetta. It’s a ghost story. And it is a comedic romance about conditional love and legacy. Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse is appropriately staged by the Pittsburgh Savoyards in their 82nd season under the harvest moon in a Victorian theatre overlooking the town of Carnegie.
This charming production is the intrepid troupe’s eighth turn with a piece well-deserving of the talented cast of 35 singers; creative direction led by returning director Michael McFadden; and musical leadership of Guy Russo. McFadden directed the troupe’s 1997 Ruddigore and four other productions. Russo leads his 22nd production here, drawing solid orchestral performances from the 40 instrumentalists, featuring concertmaster Laura Leonard and Lynette Garland, orchestra manager.
Spoofing the formulaic Victorian melodrama and conjuring of their own tried and true tricks, Gilbert and Sullivan stirred up this very entertaining two-act musical in 1887. The collaborators’ 10th collaboration, Ruddigore is known for its offbeat spooky elements set against a satirical take on the Victorian Melodrama genre. Admittedly, G&S were stretching their imaginations further to avoid repeating themselves, but necessity conjures invention and pays off handsomely in Ruddigore.
Thus, Ruddigore is refreshing in its unique contrast of parallel romantic plots with a familial curse that wreaks havoc with all those who live in an idyllic village in Cornwall. There a corps de ballet of professional bridesmaids pine for the next wedding. There seems to be a shortage of bachelors, so the young women stand ready to dance and wave floral arches, should any proposals be accepted.
The thing is, the ruling class–comprised of Baronets–are under the curse of a vengeful witch. Each successor is required to commit any kind of crime daily lest they die a painful death. The portraits of those who have suffered such a fate are displayed in the family castle–witness to generations of such condemned Baronets who can’t seem to shed the pesky curse.
A young farmer Robin Oakapple (beautifully sung by Michael Brawdy) and the village’s leading maiden Rose Maybud seem destined for a match. Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, is an historically wicked baronet (devilishly depicted by Corey Nile Wingard) who lurks and stirs up some damning family history.
Sweet Rose was portrayed and sung wonderfully by Sarah Marie Nadler, who shares the role with Jenna Ziccardi. Looking out for her is an aunt, Dame Hannah (performed impeccably by Sally Denmead), a matriarchal but also another single woman in the village. It seems the Ruddigore curse separated her from her true love, Sir Roderic, the 21st baronet.
Unexpectedly Robin’s foster brother Richard Dauntless (sung and danced with charming gusto by Russell Henry Hulbert) returns from his naval service. He stirs some selfish mischief in revealing Robin’s Ruddigorian heritage and true identity as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. Then, as expected, the plot evolves into merry chaos by the end of Act I. Rose withdraws her pledge and brokenhearted Robin must find a way to survive and win Rose back as Dauntless attempts to win Rose for himself. And Despard finds joy in the topsy-turvydom.
In Act II, the witch’s long-standing curse becomes real as Baronet Robin struggles with fulfilling his commitment to a life of crime. Having taken up residence in the familial manor, Robin literally meets his ancestors who step out of their portraits to interrogate him about his daily crimes. Sir Roderic comes forward and is soon dramatically reunited with Dame Hannah. Richard Currie was a commanding Roderic on Oct. 12, with Bob Herrold playing the role as well. It’s soon clear the curse needs to be obliterated if true love is to reign. The music and laughter swells through Act II with some entertaining Pittsburgh references (you’ll have to see the show to hear more…) and G&S confections that rival those heard in the more frequently performance operettas.
Ruddigore delights with its charming melodies and merry menu of arias, duets, chorus numbers, and one of the loveliest G&S madrigals that expands to feature the full chorus. The entertaining “matter song” (known to many as a patter number added to the Broadway and film version of Pirates of Penzance) is a fun highlight. Moreover, the cast is strong vocally and the leads demonstrate strength and versatility in whatever combination they sing.
Robin’s sidekick Old Adam Goodheart aptly switches gears to support the criminal undertakings so that Robin can indeed avoid the undertaker! Jack M. Mostow turned in a stalwart performance on Oct. 12, alternating with Michael Greensein in the role.
As the delightful Mad Margaret, Meghan M. Hilker and Rachelmae Pulliam (showing her comedienne prowess on Oct. 12) share a classic G&S role and audience favorite. With arias like “Cheerily Carols the Lark”, Margaret charms in spite of her apparent “insanity!” Of course, it’s a love that’s made her crazy as she’s longed for the cursed Despard.
Featured as the adorable and funny Professional Bridesmaids are: Mia Bonnewell as the spunky and well-sung Zorah; Lindsay Ferreira as Ruth; and Kat Boman as the comic Petulant Bridesman; along with Lisa Dunlap, Mia Gallo, and Elizabeth Partee. Leslie Clark is their dutiful Ballet Mistress, overseeing director McFaden’s keen and comic choreography as the maids reprise their fun bits.
As always, the dedicated Savoyards chorus is hard at work and sings curtain to curtain, joined by the leads who share roles. The ladies chorus members include: Catherine Grace, Tricia Hixon, Megan Kelly, Heidi Pilewski, Carolee Shearer, Marichristine M. Storch, Kira Varela, and Tanya Veverka.
The men of the chorus are very busy depicting the Ancestors in Act II as well as other “blades and buck”. Kudos to the tight ensemble and solo work by Christopher Carter, Don Gudenburr, Phil Hayes, Don Neuhaus, Gerald Neuhaus, Jordan Speranzo, Eric Starbuck, and Craig W. Yankes.
Two sets–one for each each act–fill the stage of the Andrew Carnegie. The village is a realistic miniature of a town square and adjacent cottages and cemetery. The castle’s portrait hall is depicted for Act 2 and therein lies the challenge for companies without the benefit of hi-tech effects. The Savoyards make a bold move to stage this production as the opera is offered more occasionally than the most well-known G&S works. The paintings in the gallery must come to life, the treat is the array of costumed ancestors who step out of nine paintings. Two busts on either end of the stage presents more challenges and are distracting during several changeovers.
Would that the men’s chorus could stand frozen for when would be an unreasonable time. They are quite delightful in the key scene of tortuous threats to Robin and have great fun with characters representing the styles of dress of many centuries.
Technical challenges aside, this Ruddigore is one to catch while the Savoyards bring their brand of passion and expertise to another of the 14 G&S operas. Ruddigore runs Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall at 300 Beechwood Ave,Carnegie (15106), so you can still check Ruddigore off your list of musical memories. (Also, mark your calendar for The Mikado, the next outing when flowers bloom in the spring, March 13-22, 2020.) And it’s worth noting the lovely new seats in one of the region’s historic auditoriums along with the projected lyrics over the stage and the orchestra’s traditionall funny bit after intermission.
General admission tickets are on sale online (where you can read more about the featured cast members and show) and at the box office. Discounts are offered for children, students, and seniors.
Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh LinkedIn
Categories: Archived Reviews