Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Skylight Music Theatre open the year with a cozy Gilbert & Sullivan show on the small stage at the Broadway Theatre Center. Ruddigore (or The Witch’s Curse) is a quaint, little story of romantic love in collision. The curse the title refers to requires the ruler of a small barony to commit one crime a day or suffer an agonizing death. The rightfully born Baronet has feigned his own death to escape the curse, leveling it on his brother. He has fallen in love. Will there be complications? Absolutely. Will it all get resolved? Without question. Will that resolution involve something weird in the fashion of a Deus Ex Curse Loophole? Well...maybe. (kindasorta)
With no room for an orchestra, the music is delivered by a small choral harmony. The production design is beautiful on the small stage. Scenic elements are projected behind the action with vivid flair by lighting and projection designer Nathan W. Scheuer. It’s a silent movie kind of a feel that even has the opening curtain speech delivered in old-timey title cards. The silent movie feel extends to Molly Mason’s humble, largely black and white costume design and Shen Heckel’s scenic elements which are gracefully whisked across the stage to serve as foreground for Scheuer’s backgrounds. The stylish depth managed between Heckel and Scheuer is kind of dazzling for a studio theatre show.
Doug Clemons charms as Robin Oakapple: a reluctant man bravely cowering in fear of his family curse. He is every bit as bold with his cowardice in love, smitten as he is with romantic feelings for Rose Maybud. Susie Robinson is breathtakingly endearing as Rose, who steadfastly lives her life by a code of etiquette found in a dainty, little book. The bashful, young lover asks his foster-brother Richard to aid him in expressing his feelings for Rose. Things naturally get a little complicated when Richard falls for Rose as well. Adam Qutaishat is the heart of comic instinct in the role of the utterly guileless Richard. An an accordion-laden Karen Estrada brings her own distinctly cunning comic presence to the stage as Robin’s faithful servant Adam.
From music to staging to character and characterization, Ruddigore is positively plush with overwhelming cuteness. The love story is cute. The love rivalry is cute. The subterfuge that threatens to tear that love apart is cute. The lack of a large orchestra is cute. The choral arrangement is cute. The tiny piano played by the onstage conductor is cute. The silent movie-style title cards projected behind the action are cute. A production does NOT get away with this much cuteness without being tediously cloying unless it manages every single element of cuteness and/or adorability with the kind of precision it takes to split an atom at CERN. It’s no surprise that Skylight/Milwaukee Opera Theatre manage precisely this. A production like this is in good hands with directors Jill Anna Ponasik and Catie O’Donnell. The show is populated with a small civilization of simple, little comic elements which playfully bounce across the stage as the music whimsically renders the comic complexity of love and conflicting romances. Without exception every one of these elements seem to be delivered with the kind of precision it would take to shake hands with a neutrino. The fact that it all happens on such an adorably tiny stage makes the production all the more irresistible.
The Skylight and Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s production of Ruddigore (or The Witch’s Curse) runs through Jan. 19 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre on 158 North Broadway. For ticket reservations, visit The Skylight online.