Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 27, 2009
If you are in the market for a thoroughly delightful evening (or afternoon) of carefree, highly melodic musical theatre, then I suggest you find your way to Theater Ten Ten for their new production of Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse. This lesser-known Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta is beautifully performed by an able ensemble under the direction of David Fuller and the (metaphorical) baton of Jason Wynn. The emphasis, as it should be, is on the snappy punchiness of W.S. Gilbert's nimble and witty lyrics and the lilting and/or jolly music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Fun—a great deal of it—is had by all. And the glorious unamplified singing of Theater Ten Ten regulars like Cristiane Young and Greg Horton is a rare and thorough treat.
If you don't know this particular G&S work (as I did not), then you will find that Act I proceeds more or less exactly according to plan, and that Act II diverges from the pattern somewhat anarchically before winding up with all the couples properly matched up at the Finale Ultimo. So there's a pretty and chipper soprano (Natalie Charlé Ellis, as Rose Maybud) who is being wooed by a comic baritone (Greg Horton, as Robin Oakapple) but later falls in love with a swaggering tenor (Kristopher Monroe, as Richard Dauntless). There's a fearsome but gentle dowager (contralto Cristiane Young as Dame Hannah), and there's a weird, dizzy woman (mezzo soprano Judith Jarosz as Mad Margaret) who is chasing after the slightly sinister bass-baritone (Michael McGregor Mahoney as Sir Despard Murgatroyd). There's also a servant (Adam Yankowy as Old Adam Goodheart) and a chorus of professional bridesmaids (Amy Mahoney and Sierra Rein). They sing songs with lyrics like "I shipp'd, d'ye see, in a revenue sloop," ""Cheerily carols the lark," and "Happily coupled are we."
Oh, and there's a ghost in Act II—a ghost who, in strangely typical Gilbertian style, may not actually be dead, owing to a technicality. (I told you this plot turns a little askew.) He is played by David Tillistrand.
You can explore the twisty plot here if you desire. What I want to tell you is that the comedy is more situational and less satirical than in, say, The Mikado; the patter songs are perhaps not quite as snappy as the best of G&S (though there is one that is pretty familiar, "My eyes are fully open," because it was interpolated in the 1980 Pirates of Penzance revival) but the love songs are sweet and, as performed here, entirely heartfelt. The highlight is the final aria, "There grew a little flower," which is sung by Cristiane Young so affectingly that I craved many more verses. Horton has a grand turn with the second act opener "I once was as meek"—and with Jarosz and Michael McGregor Mahoney, delivers an ever-accelerating series of choruses of the aforementioned "My eyes are fully open." And Ellis is a deliciously sly and radiant ingenue with a lovely, clear voice.
Fuller has adapted the piece by adding a framing device that places this performance in a Maine mental hospital—the staff and a few of the patients are the players in the operetta-within-the-show. This set-up, if not absolutely necessary, adds a layer of lighthearted whimsy and allows for some playful gags, the best of which is the use of a puppet (Matilda) as one of the professional bridesmaids. Sierra Rein "plays" Matilda and she is superb—if G&S can't encompass Avenue Q-style theatricks, then who can?
Jason Wynn, on keyboard, does his usual masterful job as musical director. Fuller's design team has done excellent work here as well, especially Giles Hogya's lighting, which sets everyone and everything on stage to perfect advantage.
I loved the chance to acquaint myself with a 120-year-old classic that was entirely new to me; the good time that the company appears to be having performing Ruddigore is infectious and makes this as engaging a musical as you'll find in NYC at the moment.