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THEATER REVIEW: A ruddy good time to be had at 'Ruddigore'

Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore" is showing at the Underground. Photo by Crimson Clear Productions

"Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse," the Gilbert and Sullivan show that opened at the Underground on Thursday night, is about honor. OK, they are all about honor, but "Ruddigore" is also about etiquette and — of all things — syllogistic form.

"Ruddigore" combines that witch's curse with a triple-reverse love triangle, with an abbreviated half-twist, that helps put the comic in comic operetta.

Director Jeffrey Madison forgoes the overture, moving the explanation of the witches curse up to be the show's prologue. This allows Christa Schulz's Dame Hannah to delightfully go all expository all over the place.

The primary intended lovers are Robin Oakdale (Josh Smith) and sweet Rose Maybud (Erin Persick). Alas, Robin is shy, nervous, modest, retiring and diffident. Smith's beard is in the full flower of its beardness, which actually helps make his gawky behavior more endearing.

Rose suffers from a fanatical adherence to the rules in her book of etiquette. The lovely "If somebody there chance to be" is rendered utterly comical by Rose's unflappable reticence and when Persick goes full bore soprano her voice fills the venue.

Unable to admit their affections, Rose and Robin's duet "I know a youth" is the original "I have this friend..." conversation.

Completing the triangle Richard Dauntless (David Greenberg), Robin's foster-brother, is a Man-o'-war's man, which allows him to engage in naughty nautical metaphors. What woman does not long to be compared to "a bright little, tight little, slight little, light little, trim little, prim little craft"?

Richard tends to have conversations with his right index finger who has an ever expanding list of reasons to call him Dick, albeit in a falsetto voice. No wonder Robin provides a litany of left-handed compliments to assure Rose that Richard is a "devil of a fellow." "The battle's roar is over," is the show's loveliest duet, but somewhat wasted since Dick is the last person we want to win Rose's hand.

Scene stealing is left to the tag team of Rebecca Farmer's Mad Margaret and Matt Downs' Despard Murgatroyd. While hysterically hysterical, Farmer also anchors the tale's tragic elements with her poignant "Cheerily carols the lark." Downs, in his best role to date, combines a deliciously evil laugh with some maniacal eye work in "Oh, why am I moody and sad?"

The duo's "I once was a very abandoned person" duet is drolly delivered, complete with overly calculated choreography courtesy of Suzie Baer.

Sir Roderic (Chris Nollet) and the chorus of ancestors are an absolute hoot, from the dodderingly inept Sir Rupert (Patrick Colvin) to the maniacal knighted Sir Desmond (Matt Smith).

"Ruddigore" has more patter songs than an average Gilbert & Sullivan offering. Most work quite well, although the warp speed of "My eyes are fully open" regrettably sacrificed both volume and comprehension.

Not that long ago, Gilbert & Sullivan productions were a yearly affair in Duluth. Given Lyric Opera of the North's success with "The Mikado" a few years back and the firm track record established with these three productions, I think Madison and company deserve a chance to present "H.M.S. Pinafore" on a big stage.

If you go:

• What: Gilbert & Sullivan's "Ruddigore"

• Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday until March 11.

• Tickets: $20 for adults, $18 for students at duluthplayhouse.org

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