Ruddigore was the tenth of the fourteen operettas written by the famed Victorian writing team of (librettist W.S.) Gilbert & (composer Arthur) Sullivan. It premiered in 1887 and was not successful (especially when compared with the team’s previous work The Mikado). The title was changed from the original Ruddygore and other revisions were attempted but the show was never considered a success. This reviewer had never seen a production until the current adaptation by Trace Oakley and The Proof Doubt Closer Theatre Company. The original script featured a witch’s curse and ghosts but Oakley has added zombies, a werewolf and more. When the audience enters the theatre, the cast is strewn about the stage in various death poses; even the pianist is slumped over the ivories.
The plot is a bit complicated but unravels neatly in time for the finale. Sir Rupert Murgatroyd’s persecution of witches resulted in a family curse. The oldest surviving male must commit a crime daily or die in agony. The latest heir, Ruthven (a charming Nathan Jenisch) has escaped the curse by faking his death and masquerading as a zombie. His younger brother Despard’s (Sean Faye) resulting daily despicable behavior has estranged him from his love Mag Meg (Meg Makin). The quintet of village maidens, bridesmaids with their constant bouquets, bemoan the fact that there have been no marriages for six months. All the young men are obsessed with the beautiful Rose Maybud (Alena Bernardi with the cast’s best voice) but too timid to ask for her hand. Even zombie Ruthven is too shy to pop the question to Rose, who always responds to situations after consulting her constant companion, a book of etiquette. Ruthven asks his foster-brother Dick Dauntless (Seth Freed), a sailor recently returned from sea, to ask Rose for him. Dick, secretly hiding his true werewolf nature, double crosses Ruthven and ends up engaged to Rose himself. The complications continue to mount until Ruthven comes up with some illogical logic to solve the family curse. Much merriment ensues uniting all the right lovers and making the bridesmaids (Jennifer Skiffington, Skye LaFontaine, Katelyn Semer, Laura Jackling and Giane Morris) very happy.
The production is bare bones and really needs better lighting and a set piece that doesn’t expose cast members crawling behind it from one side of the stage to the other. Overall Trace Oakley’s direction, the spirited accompaniment of Cynthia Heath and the exuberance of the young cast make for a fun outing. The cast is in fine voice, especially the females, but at times their youthfulness and inexperience with the intricate and fast-paced lyrics, a staple of the G&S canon, muddle their words. Oakley has written a few clever revisions, bringing such modern slashers as Jason Voorhees, complete with hockey mask, into the mix.
Studio/Stage Theatre, 520 N. Western Ave. in Los Angeles. Ends Aug. 28. 800-838-2006 or http:/www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2581451