Review: Ruddigore by Gilbert & Sullivan Austin
by David Glen Robinson
Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse, now playing at the Worley-Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School off north Lamar Boulevard, sparkles as a well-produced and well-performed gem of light opera. The show is the yearly grand production of Gilbert & Sullivan Austin, a largish cabal of G&S fanatics under the control, barely, of Artistic Director Ralph MacPhail, Jr. The music, as always, is under the superb direction of Jeffrey Jones-Ragona.
Known simply as Ruddigore, the light opera premiered in 1887 at the Savoy Theatre in London, figuratively pushing off stage The Mikado before that worthy had finished filling the seats at every performance. The reasons for the unseemly rush to Ruddigore are known only to British theatre enthusiasts, but most Londoners at the time thought The Mikado the better work. Apparently, so did Gilbert and Sullivan, or some segment of the duo. We only have North Korea negotiations and FBI shenanigans; Londoners had Gilbert and Sullivan infighting.
The greatly anticipated qualities of Ruddigore were its light play with the paranormal (apparitions, etc.), an oppressive upper class thwarted, the standard topsy-turvy plot, and the great music of Arthur Sullivan. The overture is especially delightful.
After almost 150 years, the rough spots of the opera have been polished down by heavy traffic. G&S Austin take full advantage of the experience of others by laying down a very smooth production of the work. They also have the advantage of recruiting probably the best singers in the Austin region. Every season a new star steps forward to excite their audiences. This year the star is tenor Danny Castillo in the role of Richard Dauntless, who could, if he wished, step to the proscenium, and, with an extended note, shatter wineglasses. He could, that is, if food and drink were allowed in the auditorium, which they are not.
G&S Austin makes a specialty of period costumes, and those in Ruddigoreare no exception to the rule. Pam Fowler takes the credit for Costume Coordinator and Make-up Designer, and costumes were supplied by Harlequin Costume co. of Winnipeg, Canada. Most impressive were the matching floral gowns, hats, and wedding nosegays for the large ensemble of Professional Bridesmaids, so-called, who sang and twirled through the entire show. Only in Gilbert and Sullivan, eh? See this show.
Ann Marie Gordon designed both the Act I and Act II sets with her doughty crew of six carpenters and constructors. The huge placid seascape backdrop of the sunny Cornwall fishing village, Rederring, was truly artful. Yes, Rederring One wonders if the art backdrop was another rental, as are many monumental opera set pieces. The program lacked any credit for a resident artist who may have created it. Over at Ruddigore Castle in Act II, the set contrasted with the Act I brightness with its portentous dark grays, purples, blues, and evil black to match the signature black capes of the bad baronets. The set was the portrait gallery of generations of bad baronets and the setting of one of the most spectacular live stage ghost apparitions in all theatre. Gordon’s set design was critical to the success of the long pivotal scene. Additional credit was given to David Little for help in creating the (photo) portraits of the evil patriarchs. It seems, however, that with an ounce more cleverness, plentifully available to this group of designers (and admittedly a lot more budget), the apparition could have burst forth without the set-up lighting blackout. That just cued the audience that SOMETHING was coming, thus watering down the surprise. But this is a quibble in the face of Act II’s success.
All the design fields succeeded admirably with this amazingly complex production. Special recognition must go to master electrician Sadie Langencamp for her design, care, and oversight of all things electrical, including lights, sound, music, projections, supertitles, and who knows what else. Her assistants were Cassie Valentin and Sierra Boudoin.
Finally, the actor-singers ensured the success of the show. Credit goes to all and especially principals Arthur DiBianca, Danny Castillo as mentioned, the redoubtable Sam Johnson, newcomer Shelby Schisler, Patricia Combs, Corinna Browning, Abigail Adams, and Sarah Manna.
Ruddigore, or the Witches Curse runs until June 24, 2018 at the Worley-Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School, off Lamar Boulevard in far north Austin. It is recommended for all audiences.
June 14 - June 24, 2018
11908 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX, 78753
June 14-24, 2018 / Thursdays-Sundays / 9 Performances
Evening performances Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 7:30 pm.
Matinees at 2 pm June 17, 23 & 24.
Special Children’s Activities Sunday, June 17 at 1pm.
Worley Barton Theater at Brentwood Christian School / 11908 N. Lamar
Purchase tickets at www.gilbertsullivan.org or call 512.474.5664
For group sales of 10 or more contact Michael Meigs at 512.420.0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org