BWW Review: RUDDIGORE at The McGill Savoy Society
The operetta Ruddigore, also known as The Witch's Curse, is much like any other musical in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. That is to say, there's a love story clouded in case of mistaken identity and solved by a newly discovered loophole, and hilarity ensues. Okay, I'll be a little more specific: in Ruddigore, Cornwall farmer, Robin Oakapple, is secretly Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, Baronet of Ruddigore. Having faked his death, his cursed title was passed along to his younger brother, Sir Despard who must commit a crime daily or perish in an agonizing death. A little zany, right? Robin is infatuated with village maiden, Rose Maybud, although both are too shy to reveal their giddy feelings toward one another. Enter Robin's dashing seafarer foster-brother, Richard, who causes a love triangle with Rose before revealing Robin's true identity to Sir Despard. Despard gladly passes his title and the curse back to Robin (AKA Sir Ruthven), who needs to grapple with his paradox and win the hand of his fair maid. Throw in a patter song, a gavotte, and a hornpipe and you have a delightful evening of theatre.
I was privy to attend McGill Savoy Society's production of Ruddigore this weekend, accompanied by two Savoy alums circa 1960-something and their granddaughters, as is becoming our multigenerational tradition. Having been raised on local and televised G&S productions, and having worked on seven of the duo's 14 operettas, I do consider myself somewhat of an aficionado. Always enjoyable, Savoy put on a highly entertaining production, although not without its flaws. It is important to note that one of Savoy's traditions is to double cast many of the lead roles, and that some of my critique will thus only pertain to select performances.
As the curtain rose, audiences were treated to a full and finely-tuned orchestra, playing the overture as the cast of villagers began to set the scene through mime. We were then introduced to the pocket-sized women's chorus who brought some beautiful vocals and plucky satirical moments throughout. Sara Wunsch as Dame Hannah gave a crisp and charismatic performance, as the doughty spinster. Emma Victoria (Rose Maybud) had a shimmering voice but I found her and her romantic lead, Didier Blach-Laflèch (Robin Oakapple) to be quite bland. Aaron Meredith as Richard Dauntless was not only irresistible to all the maidens of the village, but to audience members as well; a captivating triple threat and a joy to watch. The role many mezzos clamor to play, Mad Margaret, was very well-acted by Judith Portelance, although not as well sung. Matthew Mckeown (Sir Despard) gave us some dulcet baritones but swallowed his words such that he was hard to comprehend.
Kudos to the male chorus that got little stage time in Act I and needed to stand motionless for a good part of Act II. Their crowning moment came in the deliciously haunting "When the Night Wind Howls" lead skillfully by Arthur Anderson (Sir Roderic). The long-awaited Act II patter song was unfortunately under-rehearsed and was not deserving of the built-in encore. Musical Director Stefano Saykaly guided the vocal harmonies nicely, but needed to emphasize the importance of diction and projection to the players. Overall, some of the best moments were the full company numbers, such as the beautiful polyphonic madrigal that ended Act I.
Well-staged and nicely choreographed by Coralie Heiler and Stefania Bertrand, Savoy's Ruddigore was a sweet show, but quite traditional and safe. This production strayed away from the updated modern-day lyric changes that Savoy was always infamous for. There was a time when you couldn't attend a Savoy production that didn't include a joke about McGill alumnus William Shatner; not in this show. As the Union Jack made its appearance onstage, I was saddened that it was not accompanied by a Brexit joke. I think that political satirists Gilbert and Sullivan would have wanted it that way.
Ruddigore continues February 15 at 7:30PM and February 16 at 2:00PM and 7:30PM at Moyse Hall (853 Sherbrooke St W, Montreal) in the McGill Arts Building. Tickets range from $15 to $25 with general seating; group rates also available. For info and tickets: https://www.mcgillsavoy.ca/ (Photos courtesy of Cai Cheng Photography)