Part of the cover of Ruddigore’s original vocal score, before the opera’s renaming.
Had the comic opera-writing duo WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan lived half a century later, they would surely have written for the emerging genre of the time: soap operas. If they had lived century later the duo might have written for a comedian like Adam Sandler, writing musicals for the big screen. If you’re wondering what such a creation looked like, look no further than the pair Ruddigore (1887). This comic opera is filled with twists and shifting relationships from any daytime soap opera, while continuing a hilarious line in the form of a bizarre curse that forces an heir to commit daily crimes or die horribly.
Overcoming this fate – and embracing a vogue to marry – are the central vanities of Ruddigore or the Witch’s Curse, currently staged by the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company. This production (at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis) was one of many interrupted by the first wave of pandemic closures in 2020. After a stellar opening weekend in March 2020, the Governor’s shutdown order turned off the lights. Two years later, however, the production is back, in a revival bringing together almost the entire cast. It’s as if the witch’s curse was suddenly reversed.
Facing said curse are two leading men: Seth Tychon Steidl (as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, hiding under an alias) and Joe Allen (as Sir Despard Murgatroyd). Marital troubles are among the petty misdeeds they commit to avoid the worst crimes, resulting in a constantly twisting web of who is engaged to whom. Both Steidl and Allen did it amiably, digging into the satirization of melodrama that Gilbert & Sullivan infused into the opera.
Packing much of the comedic punch is a real, real chorus of professional bridesmaids — proof, perhaps, that wedding day excesses were a thing long before reality TV. Whether calling out the lack of business or twirling on stage in the many excellent dance numbers choreographed by Penelope Freeh, this section of the chorus is particularly relevant.
Gilbert & Sullivan’s screenplay and score are full of comedic elements, and the actors are ready to seize the spotlight. Memorable performances by Lara Trujillo as Mad Margaret and Paul Willis, Jr. as Richard Dauntless enliven the performance, and Sarah Wind Richens hilariously directs (and sets) Rose Maybud, around which so many marital desires turn.
For all that some writers fear post-pandemic theatrical tastes will forever change, the GSVLOC production is a tidy and timely reminder that there will always be a place for well-performed classics that will have you laughing and smiling.
The GSVLOC production of Ruddigore plays at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis through April 3.