Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



MIKE STORIE: I have been writing a "short attention span plot" for our annual G&S productions for the past several years. They are published in our quarterly newsletter "Paragraphs" and have become quite popular among those who aren't accustomed to opera plots and who want an overview, ala Joe Bob Briggs, of what they will be seeing on the stage.

Those new to Gilbert And Sullivan may find the following plot synopsis useful for bringing them up to speed so they will know as much about the plot as anyone:

Ruddigore: For those who find the libretto too long, its print too small, the words overly syllabic, or you don't know what a libretto is to begin with. (Try to remember the "libretti" is a kind of pasta served in library cafeterias.)

This opera features a considerable amount of jumping around on stage (some of which is actually in time to the music) and a truly impressive amount of over-acting. So I wouldn't sit too close.

It all starts a couple of hundred years ago with a guy named Rupert Murgatroyd who got his jollies by burning witches. One of the witches takes it personally and lays a curse on him. Because of the curse, he must commit a crime every day forever. As soon as he fails to commit his daily crime, he dies in horrible agony. Then it's his eldest son's turn.

Well, old Rupert starts off punctually enough but then feels guilty and stops. ZAP! He dies in horrible agony. His son Jasper then has to commit crimes until he decides to stop and dies in horrible agony. Then Lionel commits crimes and dies in horrible agony, Conrad commits crimes and dies in horrible agony, Desmond commits crimes and dies in horrible agony, Gilbert commits crimes and dies in horrible agony, Mervyn commits crimes and dies in horrible agony, and Roderick commits crimes and dies in horrible agony. (You're beginning to see why they call this "comic" opera.)

The nearest town to Ruddigore Castle (where those bad Murgatroyds live) is called Rederring. In addition to its mysterious, but long-standing, daily local crime wave, Rederring is just about the only town in England with a company of endowed (Another NEA screw-up) professional bridesmaids who are worried that they are in for funding cuts if someone doesn't get married soon.

The reason no one is getting married is that all the guys in town are hot for Rose Maybud who is OK to look at but is a stuck-up little snot who carries around a book of etiquette to make sure no one messes up. On top of that she talks like a fugitive from a King James Bible and chooses her boy friends based on:

  1. Good manners
  2. Availability
  3. Who's got the most bucks

In that order. (Can you say gold-digger?)

The only local guy who meets her criteria is a wealthy farmer named Robin Oakapple. He too has the hots for her but thinks she's too good for him. He may have reason to think so since he has a bit of dirt in his own linen closet!

It turns out that he is one of those bad Murgatroyds but he fooled the curse by running off to town and changing his name. (The administrator of the curse apparently isn't the sharpest tool in the shed!) Consequently, his younger brother, Despard, gets to commit crimes and die in horrible agony.

During all this, the desperate bridesmaids are trying to convince anyone to get married, even Rose's old Aunt Hannah. Poor Hannah was once in love with one of those Murgatroyds, but when she found out he was the baddest man in town she broke their engagement. Oddly enough, he subsequently died in horrible agony.

Now there's only two people who know the truth about Robin - his old servant Adam Goodheart and his foster brother Dick Dauntless who has been at sea in the Coast Guard for 10 years. Wouldn't you know it, but what should sail into the harbor at that very moment but the good ship Tom-Tit with Dick on board. Tricky Dick has peed more salt water than most sailors have seen, and as a result he is a little hard to understand in casual conversation.

After a big welcome home party for Dick, Robin explains to him about how he is too shy to talk to Rose Maybud. Dick volunteers to speak to her for him and Robin agrees. Things get a little confused at this point because Dick can only talk salty sailor talk which Rose keeps trying to look up in her etiquette book.

The real problem is that Dick falls for her himself, and ends up popping the question. She accepts, but when it comes time to explain all this to Robin, Rose suddenly realizes that (since he has a lot more money) she really loved Robin all the time. So she backs out on Dick. Dick is not amused.

(At this point, a mezzo-soprano will wander onto the stage and have a nervous breakdown. Pay her no never-mind. Those who have been in musical theater for some time realize that this is not an unusual occurrence.)

So Rose and Robin are to be married (much to the relief of the bridesmaids) and even nasty brother Despard shows up for the wedding. Despard, it turns out, is the boyfriend of the above-mentioned mezzo-soprano.

Suddenly, a bunch of urban fops show up to hustle the local chicks. Apparently, these guys haven't been able to get dates in the big city so they are trying their pick-up lines on the country girls. The girls, in turn, are amused by the attention and quickly dump the local clods. (The fact that the local girls have been cleaning fish all day doesn't seem to register.)

The urban fops show the girls a good time by singing a madrigal about how there are four seasons and some are better than others. During this, most of the orchestra gets a head start on intermission.

Dick, meantime, has been fuming backstage ever since Rose dumped him so he decides to stir the plot a bit by telling brother Despard who Robin really is. This has a somewhat dampening effect on the wedding festivities.

So Robin now has to take on the Ruddygore curse and brother Despard is free to be a good guy. Rose decides that she can't very well marry a cursed baronet, no matter how rich, so she switches to Despard. But since he is now a good guy, he decides to marry the crazy mezzo-soprano. Rose then naturally throws herself back on old Dick. And someone has the common decency to drop the curtain on the whole mess.

After half-time, Robin has moved into the local castle and changed his name to Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. Not to be outdone, old Adam changes his name to Gideon Crawle. They are desperately trying to figure out how to fulfill the curse and commit a crime a day without getting caught. One problem is that they don't know how bad a crime it has to be to satisfy the curse.

Dick and Rose wander in with a couple of stray bridesmaids and ask him if it's OK if they get married. He reluctantly agrees and then retires to his picture gallery to contemplate his forthcoming evil life.

While he's feeling sorry for himself, we get a big clap of thunder (or some other cheap theatrics) and suddenly his ancestors in the portraits in the gallery turn into ghosts and start walking around. It would appear that they want to know if he had been bad enough this week.

Well, he starts with some hand-waving, claiming Monday was a holiday and stuff like that. The bottom line is the he hasn't been hardly bad enough.

The ghosts decide that the only way he can prove himself is to kidnap one of the chicks from town. Either that, or it's time for the traditional dying in horrible agony. After a short but dramatic demonstration of horrible agony, he decides to send old Gideon for some townie take-out.

When Gideon leaves, Despard (the former bad guy) and his new wife (the ditzy mezzo) show up. They are now working for Department of Health, Education and Welfare and appeal to him to give up his new-found evil ways even if it means he must die (you got it - in horrible agony). They finally convince him, and to celebrate, they all try to sing faster than the orchestra.

When Gideon gets home with the townie-to-go, Sir Ruthven realizes his troubles have just begun. The "girl" from town turns out to be Aunt Hannah! She is more than a bit miffed and jumps out of the sack swinging a knife. Robin is petrified and calls for help to the ghosts. His uncle Roderick steps down from his picture frame to find out what the yelling is all about.

In a dramatically contrived theatrical coincidence, it turns out that Sir Roderick is the baronet that Aunt Hannah had once been in love with and they rush into each other's arms (the Victorian equivalent of those old shampoo commercials). Their only problem is what happens if they should marry. Since he's dead, his bride would automatically be a widow so she could immediately get married again. (Perhaps some overtime for the equity bridesmaids!)

While they are working this problem, Robin suddenly comes up with a legal technicality of Simpsonian proportions. Because of the curse, refusing to commit a crime is the same thing as committing suicide. But suicide is itself a crime. So if they commit suicide they don't have to die. Ah Ha! You knew we would encounter silliness somewhere didn't you?

So the ghosts all apply to the Supreme Court for writs of revivification and all the town girls wander in at this point to get an opportunity to dance with dead guys before the final curtain.

I hope this clears every thing up.

Page created 4 October 1997