mock’s crest productions

Mock’s Crest’s ‘Ruddigore’: Over the Top

Gilbert & Sullivan melodrama offers solid singing but dramatic excess

By BRUCE BROWNE

An enigmatic plot set amidst Victorian atmosphere, rife with ensembles, solos and chorus work. Sound familiar? Yeah, plus this one has ghosts, cursed baronets, and professional bridesmaids, with a kind of “Miss Havisham” to boot. Ruddigore is the name, Gilbert and Sullivan are the creators and Mock’s Crest Productions on the University of Portland campus is the company.

Neither opera nor operetta nor musical, Ruddigore is a melodrama, “a dramatic or literary work in which the plot, typically sensational and designed to appeal to the emotions, takes precedence over detailed characterization,” writes stage director Bruce Hostetler, quoting the Wikipedia definition, in his program notes. And that form posed a challenge for composer and performers.

Mock's Crest Opera's 'Ruddigore' at University of Portland.

L to R: Joshua Randall as Richard Dauntless, Kelliann Wright as Rose Maybud, and Bobby Instead as Sir Ruthven Ruddigore in Mock’s Crest Productions’ ‘Ruddigore’ at University of Portland. Photo: Steve Hambuchen.

Before writing the music for Ruddigore, Sir Arthur Sullivan was already enjoying recognition as one of the crown’s most prolific composers in the 1880s, producing a body of orchestral, song and choral works including popular songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Lost Chord” and the acclaimed 1886 cantata The Golden Legend, becoming a favorite of the public and knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883. His librettist partner W.S. Gilbert’s body of work varied in genre and theme – plays, short stories, poetry both serious and comedic. Some would be recycled – portraits coming to life – in his collaborations with Sullivan. In 1885, they teamed up (to our everlasting joy) on The Mikado (672 performances).

On the heels of Mikado, then, came Ruddigore (1887), originally Ruddygore, a return to comedic melodrama and to Gilbert’s thematic fascination with the supernatural, in this case the ancestral portraits come to life. This plot treatment is used by J. K. Rowling to good effect in the Harry Potter series, but it did not signal great success for Ruddigore. The show ran only nine months, and was roundly criticized from its debut forward. I think there’s a reason: it does not stand easily beside Pinafore (performed at Mock’s Crest last year); Pirates of Penzance, or The Mikado. Yes, there are some pretty tunes by Arthur Sullivan, and excellent examples of Gilbert’s famous “topsy-turvy” brilliance. But there’s altogether too much patter — a specialty of Gilbert, but used more sporadically, and thus more effectively, in the previous shows.

Perhaps, then, like other melodramas, staging Ruddigore requires going to extremes to garner audience appreciation. That’s the weak hand Mock’s Crest was dealt here, and despite some aces, at times, this production overplayed it.

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Mock’s Crest Productions review: A “Pinafore” for purists

Gilbert and Sullivan's 'HMS Pinafore' profits from strong staging and leading-role performers.

by BRUCE BROWNE

Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and …. Gilbert and Sullivan? Absolutely, yes! Those two set off 135 years ago on the partnership trail that would lead to 14 successful operettas. (Today we might call them musicals, but they’re not!) And some decades later, their American cousins followed suit with their own partnerships. W. S. Gilbert (words) and Arthur Sullivan (music), though, were the first populist duo to mix the vernacular with the operatic and come out with the model of the modern major musical.

Mock’s Crest production of H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan at their most traditional, perhaps close to the way one would have seen it in 1878. Costumes, set and actors all hewed closely to the D’Oyly Carte production. Dialogue and lyrics original. No modern references (a la Pirate of Penzance at Portland Opera last year.) Pinafore purists should be proud.

Mock's Crest's HMS Pinafore. Photo: Larry Larsen

Mock’s Crest’s HMS Pinafore. Photo: Larry Larsen

Give three cheers, and one cheer more, for the orchestra, led by Tracey Edson. It was a great band, and stationed in a great place – upstage, behind the actors. Edson kept a swift pace, as the show clocked in at just a little over two hours. Still time for a cool summer ice cream before bed.

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