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REVIEW: A Brilliant Savoy Soap Opera is Ruddigore (GSVLOC)

Part of the cover plate for the original vocal score of Ruddigore, prior to the opera’s renaming.

Had the comic opera writing duo W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan lived a half-century later, they would have assuredly written for the emergent genre of the day: television soap operas. If they had lived a century later, the duo might have written for a comedian like Adam Sandler, penning musical comedies for the silver screen. If you wonder what such a creation have sounded like, look no further than the pair’s Ruddigore (1887). This comic opera is filled with the twists and turns and shifting relationships of any daytime soap opera, while chasing a hilarious throughline in the form of a bizarre curse that requires an heir commit daily crimes, or die horribly.

Defeating this destiny – and embracing a vogue for marrying – are the central conceits of Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse, currently being 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 several interrupted by the first wave of pandemic lockdowns in 2020. After a brilliant opening weekend in March 2020, the governor’s closure order turned the lights off. Two years later, however, the production is back, in a revival reuniting almost all of the cast. It’s like the witch’s curse was suddenly reversed.

A faux 1950s-style, promotional poster for the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company production of Ruddigore in 2020, which was cut short but has been revived to play at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center, at Plymouth Congregational Church, located at 1900 Nicollet Avenue South, in Minneapolis through April 3. Poster design by Tom McGregor and Mary Olson.

Facing down 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 disturbances are amongst the petty malfeasances that they commit to avoid worse crimes, resulting in a constantly twisting web of who’s-engaged-to-who. Steidl and Allen both ham it up amiably, digging into the satirization of melodrama that Gilbert & Sullivan infused into the opera.

Packing a large part of the comedic punch is a veritable and actual chorus of professional bridesmaids – proof, perhaps, that wedding day excesses were a thing well before reality television. Whether decrying the lack of business or flitting about the stage in the many excellent dance numbers choreographed by Penelope Freeh, this section of the chorus is especially on point.

Gilbert & Sullivan’s script and score are replete with comedic elements, and the cast are game 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 makes a hilariously put-upon (and putting-upon) Rose Maybud, around whom so much marital wiling turns.

For all that some writers have worried that post-pandemic theatregoing tastes will be forever changed, the GSVLOC production is a tidy and timely reminder that there will always be a place for well-performed classics that make you laugh and smile.

The GSVLOC production of Ruddigore plays at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis through April 3.

Basil Considine