Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Ruddigore has had a difficult time of it over the years. It was the unfortunate follow-up to Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and the phenomenal success of that production would color all their future endeavors. The show was not revived in either of their lifetimes, and it only returned to the D’Oyly Carte repertoire in a revised version in the early 1920’s.


However, the score is delightful, and Gilbert’s spoof of Victorian melodramas and gothic novels is predictably witty. The songs and situations have inspired later works. The patter trio in the last act, “My Eyes are Fully Open” was added to Joe Papp’s late 70’s version of The Pirates of Penzance, and it also turns up in the stage adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie. The scene where the portraits of the Murgatroyd ancestors come to life was breezily purloined for Me and my Girl.


Trace Oakley, the adaptor and director for this production, announces his intent to focus on the “gore” in the title and tepidly modernizes the plot by adding zombies, werewolves, and a female chorus of prime slasher victims to Gilbert’s tale of a witch’s curse. The problem is that he doesn’t push his concept far enough to break free of the original book.

While there are contemporary anachronisms thrown into the dialog and some of the lyrics, it remains mostly Gilbert.  As there is nothing to explain why, for instance, Richard Dauntless (Seth Freed) is a werewolf sailor, the production winds up looking like it’s being performed by a random group of trick-or-treaters or a troupe of Rocky Horror acolytes who wound up at the wrong theater.

The blocking appears to have been thought up on the spot, especially the frequent moments when important characters are placed in total darkness. Averi Quinn Yorek’s choreography is unexceptional, except for the bizarre fun Freed has with his Beyonce-inspired hornpipe.

The cast is certainly game, and there are a number of decent voices among the principals, though some have a sound that is too modern for Sullivan’s extremely specific vocal writing. Best among the group are the above-mentioned Freed, whose tenor rings out in his solos and also anchors the male ensembles. Alena Bernardi brings a bright, clear soprano to her wide-eyed interpretation of the overly punctilious Rose Maybud.

Sean Faye is a delightful Despard Murgatroyd, the current bad baronet, and Meg Makin makes a wonderfully loopy Mad Margaret. Courtney King’s Hannah reveals a strong performer whose performance is lessened by the fact that the role was not reinvented. Nathan Jenisch is disappointingly bland in the tricky comic-patter role of Ruthven Murgatroyd.

Ruddigore is performed infrequently enough that devoted Savoyards will find visiting this production worthwhile. For those less steeped in the world of Gilbert & Sullivan, you may want to wait for a stronger traditional production, or an adaptation that is more audaciously revised.

Studio Stage     August 5 – August 28, 2016