by Shirley Lorraine
Ruddigore Right for the Season
Apropos for the month of October, the Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire Company brings a production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operetta, Ruddigore, or The Witche’s Curse to the stage at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks through October 20.
Generations of titled gentlemen, a long-standing family curse, ghosts, mad woman and eerie goings-on, the fast-paced actions give many opportunities for the actors to overact with studied sincerity.
The VCGCRC has offered all the famous pair’s works over the past decade plus and they are always a delight to behold. Under the expert tutelage of the dynamic duo of John and Rebecca Pillsbury, singers and actors take on the vocal challenges provided by the operettas.
As in all G&S’ works, the plot is highly stylized, great fun is made of many stereotypes, and all comes out well in the end, usually in unexpected ways.
The rich Murgatroyd family have been cursed by a witch whereby the current heir must commit a crime a day or endure a death by torture. A legion of ancestors have all befallen the same fate. The eldest son, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, decides to fake his death and reinvent himself as a peasant, leaving his unfortunate brother, Sir Despard, to carry the curse.
Sir Ruthven, now known as Robin Oakapple, falls in love with a lovely maiden, Rose Maybud, but cannot reveal his true identity. With a cadre of professional bridesmaids ever at the ready for some nuptials, Rosebud turns to her trusty etiquette book for advice.
Meanwhile, Robin engages the services of his foster brother recently back from maritime service, to approach the fair maiden on his behalf. The two fall instantly and madly in love.
Misunderstandings prevail and a wedding is planned. Sir Despard is apprised that his brother lives, and Sir Ruthven must once again assume the role of the cursed Murgatroyd. Despard is then free to marry his long-time love, Mad Margaret.
Much haunting ensues when ancestors come to life from portraits on the wall in the second act. The ghosts help resolve the family’s plight and in the end all is well. And there is more to the plot to complicate, delight and confuse.
The lead role of Sir Ruthven is ably carried by company regular Gary Saxer, who has perfected the art of rapid-fire vocal patter required in a G&S production. A trio of Saxer, Emma Hall as Mad Margaret and Mark Goldstein as Despard is a highlight of the second act. Laura Barrows handles the role of the sweet Rose with a beautiful voice. Perhaps because of the vocal range, I found the men’s singing easier to understand throughout while still enjoying the purity of the women’s voices. Perusing the general plotline beforehand is highly recommended as there are continual twists and turns to follow.
A fine setting and outstanding musical accompaniment set this show apart. Do yourself a favor and go enjoy this delightfully different production.
Ruddigore, Theatre on the Hill, Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 381-1246, www.hillcrestarts.com. Tickets are $25 adults, $19 children/students/seniors. Friday and Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.