The College Light Opera Company is amazing. It offers “Ruddigore” this week at Highfield Theatre in Falmouth. The show, a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, captures the silliness of late 19th-century pretensions about love and curses, and mocks pretentious melodrama.
It is a thoroughly enjoyable, escapist show.
The story takes place in a small village, where all the young men have a thing for Rose Maybud (Paula Berry), but she rejects them all. Moreover, she is so concerned about etiquette that it rules her every move. There is a local farmer, Robin Oakapple (Jeffery Laughrun), who is also smitten with Rose, but he’s too shy to make the appropriate move and she’s so tied up with being proper that any attempt at breaking the ice fails. Then Robin’s foster brother, Richard (Ian C. Weber), returns home and offers to intercede. He does secure her hand for Robin. The bridesmaids are thrilled. The plot thickens because Richard also falls for Rose and decides to win her for himself. She admires his forthrightness.
Enter Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the baronet of Ruddigore (Adam Cantor), doing a good impersonation of the villain Snidely Whiplash (for those of a certain TV generation). Turns out the baronetcy is cursed. Each baron must do a bad deed every day or die in agony. Despard then reveals that Robin is actually Ruthven Murgatroyd, his older brother who ran away 20 years prior to escape the curse. Given the circumstances, Rose decides to marry Richard instead.
I won’t give away further details. Mixed in with all of this are Rose’s aunt, Dame Hannah (Amber Kiara), who gave up her betrothed when she learned he was one of the accursed baronets; Mad Margaret (Carlyn Barenholtz); and Robin's faithful servant, Old Adam Goodheart (Jack Humphrey). The casting was spot-on. All did justice to their roles and their songs.
The orchestra, under the direction of Andrew Crust, had me from the overture. I had never seen “Ruddigore” and in a way it was better: I could appreciate the beauty of Sullivan’s music, without the lyrics. It began with a takeoff on Wagner, whose work it was mocking, and then went on to the usual Sullivan strains. The horns and percussion get their day in this score; however, for the most part they do not overwhelm the voices.
The songs are witty; I can see why Gilbert is admired. His ability to rhyme floors me. And I can see patter as a precursor, albeit separated by 100 years, to rap music.
The sets by Oscar Escobedo are lovely. The one in the second act is particularly versatile technically; I liked the way they worked out the ghosts’ appearance. The lighting design by Angela Mantel is very effective in the show.
The makeup is well done. The costumes by Sophia Baramidze are lovely. I could imagine “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence standing there. The men wear the pantaloons and short-fronted waistcoats of that time.
David Ward is the stage director and Beth Burrier is the associate artistic director. They have done a fine job all summer.
Manley Gavich is the choreographer. This show is more about group singing than group dancing, although Ian Weber has some wonderful solo numbers in which he does jumps like Baryshnikov and a fine jig. He gets to dance with Rose, too. The ensemble numbers deliver in terms of acting, singing and dancing.
There are small gestures I appreciated. In one scene, they use a Union Jack almost like you would a silver cross.
This year’s company has an expressive collective and individual presence. Paula Berry’s voice is strong and beautiful. Sometimes it is hard to understand some of what she is saying, but that’s okay. That is also true of Hannah and Mad Margaret, and some of the male leads, too. Part of it is G&S, who stuff so many words together that it’s hard to quite get all of them.
There is a lot of silliness in this show, from the parodying of the grand shows of the time to the body English that Jeffery Laughrun executes. Carlyn Barenholtz is quite effective as Mad Margaret. She has one song, “Cheerily Carols the Lark,” that is the essence of her character.
One theme of the show is about love versus convention. Does one bow to etiquette to choose a mate? Other questions raised: Are women driven mad without the love of their life? And does a curse triumph over love?
The show runs long, but the show does not lag. We came out of there lifted by the excellent execution of the show.
“Ruddigore” runs through Saturday. Shows are at 8 PM most nights and there is a 2 PM matinee on Thursday. The theater is at 58 Highfield Drive. The box office is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM.
A note: there has been a change in the season lineup. Next week’s production will be “Knickerbocker Holiday.” The last show of the season will be “Godspell.”