Of the 13 operettas Mssrs. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote in the 19th century, Ruddigore had always arguably been the problem child: poorly received upon opening, then revised and altered several times thereafter. But recent reconsiderations of the original text--and last year's change in artistic management at the Savoyards--raised our hopes for this production. In large part, we weren't disappointed.
Director Derrick Ivey's secret to success here involves milking every supernatural element in this melodramatic satire for all they're worth. Thus Bill Chamberlain instantly becomes, if not a full-fledged werewolf, then a drooling, beastly suitor at the least whenever a full moon comes around (accompanied, of course, by gothic organ music). An equally operatic Evelyn McCauley is made up to look like Elsa Lancaster in The Bride of Frankenstein, and her over-the-top rendition of Mad Margaret has her briefly channeling everyone from Jersey girls to Elmer Fudd in the song "Cheerily Carols the Lark."
Ivey and musical director Alan Riley Jones' irreverence cuts particularly close to home in the second act, when the assembled cursed baronets of the house of Murgatroyd start to torture the hapless Ruthven to death--by singing the schmaltzy bridemaids' chorus from act one, "Hail the Bridegroom, Hail the Bride." Egad! That rumbling sound beneath Carolina Theatre was the show's co-creators, rolling over in their graves.
Ivey and Jones pitch their entertaining supernatural camp all over the place, from a bridesmaid's chorus turned coven to the love-charmed apples that Rose, the rather ditzy heroine, is always giving everyone except the right guy.
Jones' orchestra hit few wrong notes on Friday night, and Chamberlain, McCauley and Ann Marie Thomas as Rose were in strong, fine voice. What Barbara Namkoong could not match in volume to the aforementioned, she made up in characterization: a witchy Dame Hannah as might have been dreamed up by Roseanne. The speed advanced Chamberlain's song "I Shipp'd, D'Ye See," but disadvantaged Thomas' solo, "If Somebody There Chanced To Be." Gilbert's singularly witty lyrics set up Rose's predicament beautifully--if only they could be heard.
The American Dance Festival has announced it will showcase North Carolina choreographers and companies again this summer. At first glance, the upcoming "Acts to Follow " series seems a meaningful upgrade to last summer's "Opening Acts," which placed small regional companies on an odd, triangular cement stage in Bryan Center's Shaefer Theater. (See "Humble Openings?" June 25, 2003, and "Last Dance, Part One," July 23, 2003. Both can be found on www.indyweek.com.)
By contrast, 16 groups will be presented in free concerts over four Saturdays in Baldwin Auditorium, a traditional, 800-seat theater with what an ADF press release describes as a "dance-ready stage." The concerts are scheduled for June 16 and 26, July 3 and 10, at 6:30 p.m. While last year's performers had 12-minute slots, this summer's groups will have 15.
Caveats remain, including "minimal technical assistance," a reference to the off-and-on floodlight grids from last summer. There's also the issue of remuneration. A ticket to an ADF mainstage show was the only compensation offered "professional North Carolina choreographers and their companies" in the series' press release. Festival press representative Brian McCormick said on Monday that the festival was "seeking funding to pay the artists, but has not secured it at this point."
And will the capacity crowds that dropped in early before shows upstairs in Reynolds Theater or Page Auditorium seek out North Carolina artists when they're placed on the far end of East Campus on their own nights? We'll find out in three months.
Meanwhile, applicants should submit contact info, a two-year professional performance resume, and a 10-minute sample of their work (on VHS or CD-ROM) to: Acts to Follow, Box 90772, Durham NC 27708. Selections will be made on a first-come, first-serve basis--"contingent on eligibility." More questions? Call 684-6402.
And the deadline fast approaches for the ADF T-Shirt Design Contest . The winner gets two tix to the show of their choice, a $50 gift certificate to Blue Corn Cafe, and the ADF merchandise their design winds up gracing. Details are on the ADF website, www.americandancefestival.org/Special/tshirt.html . Entries are due by 6 p.m., Wednesday, March 31.
One last note in theatrical philanthropy: Temple Theater's current art exhibition, inspired by title character of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, culminates in a three-way gala and auction benefit next Thursday, April 1, at Sanford's ArtStudio Gallery. Ten works by local artists which have been on silent auction during Picasso's run, will go to the highest bidder to benefit the theater, while a work by Jeannine DesVergers Reese will be raffled to benefit "Willing Hands," a group which assists charitable organizations in Lee County. High school student Holly Crowson's contributed painting was to be auctioned as well, but after her tragic death in February, funds will be accepted to establish an art scholarship in her name.
Reviews & Openings
OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS: American Menu, N.C. Central University Theater, Fri.-Sun., through April 4, $10-$5, 530-5170; Another Antigone, University Theater (NC State), Thu.-Sun. through April 4, $14-$6, 515-1100; Duke ChoreoLab 2004, Duke Dance, Reynolds Theater, Sat.-Sun. March 27-28, $15-$8, 684-4444; The Lonesome West, Wordshed Productions, Swain Hall, UNC, Thu.-Sun. through April 4, $12-$5, 969-7121; La Nozze de Figaro, Company Carolina, Gerrard Hall, UNC, Fri.-Sun. through Apr. 4, $12-$5, 619-6136.
**** Proof, Triad Stage--Though regional theatergoers may remember the Playmakers production from December 2002, at the center of the current show at Triad Stage there's something the earlier run in Chapel Hill lacked: a robust, believable interpretation of Catherine, its central character. The issue of believability cuts to the heart of David Auburn's drama, in which the three people closest to a brilliant deceased mathematician have to sort out what they believe about each other--and with them, the things that still require proof.
Elizabeth Kapplow convinces here as the devoted Catherine, a bright, blunt 25-year-old who still isn't sure just how much of her father's gift she's inherited. Kapplow's Catherine has the tomboy note of a girl raised in a house where something besides social niceties was regularly valued. As Hal, Richard Canzano brings the right note of math-geek tentativity to his attraction to her. And the gangly humanity of Martin Rader as Catherine's father, Robert, adds savor to the show.
In retrospect, Auburn's play does pull for Catherine and Hal. So did last week's audience, which understandably responded to act one's last revelation with whoops of delight and applause. It's that kind of a show--which means you should make reservations now. (Tues.-Sun., through April 4. $37-$10. 336-272-0160.)
**1/2 Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Temple Theater--Why are some of the region's best actors having to work this script this hard for laughs? The skin-deep characterizations, for starters, which reduce the title character to a one-note libertine and short-changes his subsequent confrontation with earnest math wonk Albert Einstein. We fundamentally don't buy either character. And should the actors be putting that much topspin on Steve Martin's deadpan, literary script? (Through Sun., March 28. $18-$10. 774-4155.)
**1/2 Honk!, Raleigh Little Theater--While this recent musical take on The Ugly Duckling claims to have bested The Lion King and Mamma Mia for Best Musical in London, it didn't remotely come close here. Major musical imbalances had us straining to hear lyrics throughout, and the show only truly caught fire when Maura Kate Moore and Kate Bowra entertained duckling John Arnold--and us--as chicken and kitten domestics Lowbutt and Queenie at the start of act two. Doug Price's broad Francophile send-up rewarded as the nemesis Cat, but the rest just didn't come together all that well--though Rick Young's set was imaginative. Maybe drop the kids off for this one? (Through Sun., March 28. $11-$7. 821-3111.)