Without a doubt, Ruddygore is the campiest of all the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Not only does it spoof the excesses of Victorian melodrama, it lets loose a few stinging barbs at grand opera, particularly the use of the obligatory mad scene. The Lamplighters produced a stunning Mad Margaret this year in the form of Marcia Hunt. Ms. Hunt, with high cheekbones and red hair, was made up exactly like Joan Sutherland in Lucia drag and proceeded to devour the stage in a tour de force the likes of which are rarely seen. In the second act, when a subdued Margaret was kept in line with threats of the mental hospital at Basingstoke, Ms. Hunt's attempts at self-control were epic, culminating in a flight across the stage on a rope a la Tarzan
This revival by the Lamplighters is in very good shape. The plot, of course, is pure nonsense, centering around the likes of Rose Maybud, Robin Oakapple, Old Adam Goodheart, and Sir Despard Murgatroyd. Ruddygore is often ignored and is not seen as a staple in the repertory, but I think it is one of the best operettas Gilbert & Sullivan produced. It contains some of Sullivan's best music His parody of the Bel Canto madness (done here with an interpolation from Lucia di Lammermoor) is merciless. The rest of the opera is quite "hummable," and a delightful evening of pure camp.
Baker Peeples was stunning as Dick Dauntless. the lusty sailor with a roving eye. As Rose Maybud, Rosemary Bock brought her usual ditsiness into full play, often reducing the audience to helpless laughter as she consulted her book of etiquette. John Ziaja made a fine ghost as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd stepped out of his picture frame to remind the latest Baron of Ruddygore of his obligations to commit one foul crime daily.
The production is holding up well. although several technical cues were missed at the performance I caught. In the key role of Robin Oakapple (the village disguise of Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd) William Wilson tended to lose breath on the patter songs. His transition to the evil Baron of Ruddygore in the second act was not all that convincing.
All in all, the evening belonged to Mad Margaret, and Ms. Hunt tore down the house time and time again with her shenanigans. Hurry out to the Presentation Theater to catch the last few performances. It is an evening of corny operetta at its best!
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This review originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter.