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Ruddigore toured the Catskills, 5/30/2009
Staff Adapted and Directed by David Fuller Musical Direction by Jason Wynn Brittney Jensen - Choreographer / Assistant Director Giles Hogya - Set & Lighting Design Soo Bang - Assistant to Set & Lighting Designer Mira Veikley - Costume Design Kate Friedberg - Costume Assistant Erienne Wredt - Production Stage Manager Sarah M. Wilson - Assistant Stage Manager CAST Natalie Charle Ellis* Greg Horton* Judith Jarosz* Amy Mahoney* Michael McGregor Mahoney* Kristopher Monroe Sierra Rein* David Tillistrand* Jason Wynn Adam Yankowy Cristiane Young *member of Actors' Equity Association
Background to the Performance
Beginning at the turn of the last century, the Murgatroyd Hospital has enacted this comic musical mystery as a tribute to the founder, Rupert Murgatroyd, who many say was the inspiration and namesake for W. S. Gilbert's original character, Sir Rupert, the first Baronet of the fictional Ruddigore in Cornwall, England. Gilbert and Murgatroyd had been classmates at the Great Ealing School in London, and also at King's College, before William S. took the career path of the law and writing and Rupert went on to medicine and the relatively nascent field of psychotherapy.
Here on Maine's rugged eastern shore, on a coast quite similar to Cornwall, stands the Gore of Ruddy. A "gore" is an unincorporated area of a county that is not part of any town, has limited self-government, and was generally the result of errors when the land was first surveyed -- a gore lies in an area between two (supposedly abutting) towns but is technically in neither. It was here amongst these rocky crags during the late 19th century that Rupert built his dream institution, in a place where he could fashion his theories of mental health and hygiene without prying eyes and governmental oversight. He named his gore "Ruddy." Most people say the name alludes to the remarkable red granite found nearby, though some point to the obvious pun. A few of the old guard think the name has something to do with Rupert's early experiments and the considerably large cemetery attached to the Hospital. But that is another story.
Today, of course Murgatroyd Hospital still goes on, though hardly in the mainstream of mental rehabilitation. The fashion of the times has turned away from Rupert's theories, moving in other directions, sadly dictated by the Big Pharmaceuticals. Still, tradition dies hard and the few inmates, that is to say, residents, plus the dedicated staff insist on presenting the storied G&S musical. It is, after all, a much needed source of not only entertainment but, yes, therapy, for all. This year the staff will again use a cache of therapeutic puppets to augment the cast.
Synopsis of G&S' Ruddigore
In the coastal village of Rederring all is not well. The professional bridesmaids are out of work, with nary a wedding in sight. Nearby Castle Ruddigore labors under a centuries old curse. In the village lives a fair maiden, Rose Maybud, who pines for the love of a local farmer, Robin Oakapple.
In the castle, the current Baronet, Sir Despard Murgatroyd, longs to be rid of the curse. Robin has a faithful servant, Old Adam Goodheart, and together they share a secret. Into town returns a sailor, Richard Dauntless, the best friend of Robin, who casts his eyes upon Rose. Robin also longs for Rose. But as Old Adam knows, Robin isn't Robin, but the rightful Baronet of Ruddigore, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd!
Fear of the curse had driven him from his duty and left his younger brother, Sir Despard, who thinks Ruthven dead, to wallow in the family misery. In doing so, Despard had rejected the woman he loved and driven her insane: Mad Margaret now roams the town and casts an eye to the castle and what might have been. Meantime, Dame Hanna, a bitter yet hopeful spinster who is Rose's aunt, knowingly watches all, she the victim of the curse and the unrequited love of Robin's late uncle Sir Roderic Murgatroyd.
But just when dark seems darkest, after the ghosts of bygone Baronets come to life, the curse is lifted, evil turns good, love conquers all, and in true Gilbert & Sullivan fashion, happiness reigns supreme!
Opened: 04/24/09- Closes: 05/24/09
The 103rd annual performance of Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Rob Staeger
Forget Robert Gatling. The machine gun was invented by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. At the very least, it could have been inspired by their rapid-fire dialogue and clever, darting lyrics. And all their playfulness is put on loving display by Theatre Ten Ten's performance of their operetta Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse. Or rather, Theater Ten Ten's production of The 103rd Annual Production of Ruddigore, or The Witches Curse. Perhaps I should explain.
The company has staged Ruddigore, in an adaptation by director David Fuller, as the latest production of the show performed annually by the staff and patients of a mental hospital in Ruddy Gore, Maine. Prior to the opening number, we meet the cast, including the chief of medicine, a few nurses, and some outpatients and current residents. The hospital's founder, we're told, went to school with Gilbert, who named a character in the play after him. It's a clever conceit, as it adds a fun wrinkle and allows innovation in the staging, such as when Mad Margaret (Judith Jarosz) is rolled in on a gurney.
Peel away that layer, and there is the plot of Ruddigore itself. The fishing village of Rederring used to have enough weddings to keep two professional bridesmaids employed, but when Rose, the most eligible bachelorette (Natalie Charlé Ellis) is too critical of her suitors, but too worried about being unladylike to speak up about the one she likes - and he, Robin Oakapple (Greg Horton), is too darn shy to express his feelings for her, it creates a blockage in the marriages of the town. Enter Robin's foster brother Richard (Kristopher Monroe), a sailor who promises to woo Rose for Robin, but winds up wooing her for himself.
That doesn't last long either, as Rose soon changes her mind again, and the couples shift again and again (in a very funny gag, it's clear that the bridesmaids don't care who get smarried, as long as someone does), until Robin's secret is revealed: He is actually Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, who faked his death to escape the family curse that would plague him should he assume his rightful title as Baronet: He must commit a crime a day, or suffer unspeakable agonies at the hands of his ghostly ancestors. The plot is as twisty and delicious as a funnel cake, but what matters is the music, and the performances.
And to a one, the cast does an excellent job. The singing is phenomenal, executed with precision, humor and heart. (Musical direction and accompaniment is by the talented Jason Wynn.) The characterizations are lively and fun, and only rarely are there glimpses of the hospital personas beneath the Ruddigore characters: just enough to be funny, but not enough to distract.
One exception to this is Sierra Rein's performance as Ruth, one of the professional bridesmaids. Ruth (also the name of the patient she plays) keeps her puppet Matilda with her at all times, singing and communicating through it exclusively. It's so completely part of her that there is a moment toward the end of the play when you realize how artificial that unity is. The moment has the effect of watching a magic trick performed, with awe and heartwarming wonder. (It's not the only puppet moment in the play; many of the ghostly spirits who haunt the Baronet are represented by puppets, creating an inhuman effect as they bob and float and threaten.)
As fine as the cast is, the two leads, Ellis and Horton, have certainly brought their A game. As Rose, Ellis brings humor and personality to every line reading, particularly her music. And Horton's Robin/Ruthven is such a mensch, so obviously uncomfortable with being a villain, that he's a joy to watch. The two have an early duet, full of barely- concealed yearning, that's one of the play's sweetest moments.
Gilbert and Sullivan can be intimidating, with their rat-a-tat lyrics that race by, sometimes more quickly than they can be processed. But Theater Ten Ten's production of Ruddigore is fun and accessible to G&S newcomers (like myself, for the most part). And as for the lyrics, the playwrights have some thoughts on that. In what must be a jab of self awareness, they wrote:
This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter! ... setting it to the fastest music they could.
It's advice worth heeding - enjoy what you hear in Ruddigore, and don't fret the details of what you'll inevitably miss. Theater Ten Ten's production, light and charming as it is, makes it easy to enjoy quite a bit.nytheatre.com review -- Martin Denton - April 27, 2009
If you are in the market for a thoroughly delightful evening (or afternoon) of carefree, highly melodic musical theatre, then I suggest you find your way to Theater Ten Ten for their new production of Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse. This lesser-known Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta is beautifully performed by an able ensemble under the direction of David Fuller and the (metaphorical) baton of Jason Wynn. The emphasis, as it should be, is on the snappy punchiness of W.S. Gilbert's nimble and witty lyrics and the lilting and/or jolly music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Fun - a great deal of it - is had by all. And the glorious unamplified singing of Theater Ten Ten regulars like Cristiane Young and Greg Horton is a rare and thorough treat.
If you don't know this particular G&S work (as I did not), then you will find that Act I proceeds more or less exactly according to plan, and that Act II diverges from the pattern somewhat anarchically before winding up with all the couples properly matched up at the Finale Ultimo. So there's a pretty and chipper soprano (Natalie Charlè Ellis, as Rose Maybud) who is being wooed by a comic baritone (Greg Horton, as Robin Oakapple) but later falls in love with a swaggering tenor (Kristopher Monroe, as Richard Dauntless). There's a fearsome but gentle dowager (contralto Cristiane Young as Dame Hannah), and there's a weird, dizzy woman (mezzo soprano Judith Jarosz as Mad Margaret) who is chasing after the slightly sinister bass-baritone (Michael McGregor Mahoney as Sir Despard Murgatroyd). There's also a servant (Adam Yankowy as Old Adam Goodheart) and a chorus of professional bridesmaids (Amy Mahoney and Sierra Rein). They sing songs with lyrics like "I shipp'd, d'ye see, in a revenue sloop," ""Cheerily carols the lark," and "Happily coupled are we."
Oh, and there's a ghost in Act II - a ghost who, in strangely typical Gilbertian style, may not actually be dead, owing to a technicality. (I told you this plot turns a little askew.) He is played by David Tillistrand.
You can explore the twisty plot here if you desire. What I want to tell you is that the comedy is more situational and less satirical than in, say, The Mikado; the patter songs are perhaps not quite as snappy as the best of G&S (though there is one that is pretty familiar, "My eyes are fully open," because it was interpolated in the 1980 Pirates of Penzance revival) but the love songs are sweet and, as performed here, entirely heartfelt. The highlight is the final aria, "There grew a little flower," which is sung by Cristiane Young so affectingly that I craved many more verses. Horton has a grand turn with the second act opener "I once was as meek" - and with Jarosz and Michael McGregor Mahoney, delivers an ever-accelerating series of choruses of the aforementioned "My eyes are fully open." And Ellis is a deliciously sly and radiant ingenue with a lovely, clear voice.
Fuller has adapted the piece by adding a framing device that places this performance in a Maine mental hospital - the staff and a few of the patients are the players in the operetta-within-the-show. This set-up, if not absolutely necessary, adds a layer of lighthearted whimsy and allows for some playful gags, the best of which is the use of a puppet (Matilda) as one of the professional bridesmaids. Sierra Rein "plays" Matilda and she is superb - if G&S can't encompass Avenue Q-style theatricks, then who can?
Jason Wynn, on keyboard, does his usual masterful job as musical director. Fuller's design team has done excellent work here as well, especially Giles Hogya's lighting, which sets everyone and everything on stage to perfect advantage.
I loved the chance to acquaint myself with a 120-year-old classic that was entirely new to me; the good time that the company appears to be having performing Ruddigore is infectious and makes this as engaging a musical as you'll find in NYC at the moment.
Copyright The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. All rights reserved.
The 103rd Annual Performance of
Ruddigore, or the Witches Curse
Presented by Murgatroyd's Hospital for Mental Rehabilitation
Ruddy Gore, Maine
April 24 - May 24, 2009
Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan
Book & Lyrics by W. S. Gilbert
Adapted by David Fuller