Sunday, March 3, 2024

musical theater review: The Lamplighters

Having successfully transplanted The Mikado from Japan to Renaissance Italy, the G&S company The Lamplighters has now experimented with Ruddigore or, in the spelling they prefer, Ruddygore.

Ruddigore is a satire of early 19th-century melodrama, and it must have occurred to somebody that its plot - of witches, ghosts, madness, a family curse, and a plot twist leaving a woman unsure which of three men she's engaged to - resembled a Mexican telenovela.

And while the result isn't much like Jane the Virgin or the stage play Destiny of Desire, the only telenovela-inspired works I know, it is set in Mexico, late 19th century. The character names and spoken dialogue were tinkered with a bit, but the English core of the story, unlike the Japanese one of The Mikado, is apparently irreducible, so the setting is a real town which was settled in the 1820s by Cornish miners. So the characters are mostly either Mexicans of English descent or actual English who immigrated to be with their ex-compatriots.

Thus Richard, though clearly a Mexican (and played by an actor who looks and sounds Mexican), whose pet name for himself is Rico instead of the original's Dick, has still joined the British Navy, sings the same boastful British mock-patriotic song, and as in the original waves a Union Jack to protect his fiancée.

On the other hand, Sweet Rose Maybud (also an obviously ethnically Mexican performer) has had her name changed to Rosa Capullo de Mayo, though she's still "Rose" in the songs because "Rosa" wouldn't scan. Mad Margaret's code word Basingstoke is replaced by Cocoyoc (it's a town in central Mexico), and the place that Ruthven gets it confused with is Calistoga.

The cleverest plot addition, however, had nothing to do with the Mexican setting. In the scene where the ghosts torture Sir Ruthven for not committing his daily crime, which usually consists of Roderic pointing his finger at Ruthven who writhes in agony without obvious cause, this time the torture consisted of the ghosts - the male chorus - singing "Poor Wandering One" and "Little Buttercup" in falsetto. Writhe away, Ruthven.

The big change, of course, is in the costumes and sets, all of which are meticulous 19th century Mexican style. Very impressive. Many of the ghosts are made up in the fashion of Day of the Dead figures. The dances are whatever Mexican folk dances the choreographer could find that fit Sullivan's music.

The setting was explained to the audience by a combination of supertitles and animated pictures on the scrim backdrop during the overture. (During the opera itself, the supertitles were in both English and Spanish.) The ghosts made their entrance by just walking in from the wings without even covering smoke, but at the same time their portraits vanished from the frames in the scrim, and reappeared when they left.

As a performance, this was OK. It didn't have any of the Lamplighters star performers, so it lacked their ability to achieve the transcendently wonderful. It's good to introduce Hispanic performers trained in this kind of material, but even the non-Hispanic ones were ... OK. The acting was OK (Noah Evans as Ruthven was a lot funnier as a clumsy bad baronet getting caught up in his cape in act 2 than he'd been as a clumsy yeoman farmer in act 1), the singing was frequently more than OK, but overall it was merely all right, and the Mexican setting didn't really click into place in all tabs.

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