Tell a Tale of Cock & Bull

The History of the Ruddygore Set

As our upcoming winter production, we are proud to present one of my personal favorites in the entire Gilbert & Sullivan canon: Ruddygore, or, The Witch’s Curse. We are excited to be bringing back a production and set design first used in 1987 at the old Presentation Theatre, and last seen in our 1991 season. The production will still be set in the original regency period, and the costumes we have been using for so many years will be rebuilt or refreshed under the direction of our own Theatre Bay Area award-nominated costumer, Judy Jackson MacIlvaine. But why are we bringing back an older set and production, and what had happened to it in the 25 years since it was last seen? Here is the story of the old Presentation Theatre Ruddygore set, and how we were able to recover it.

The 1987 Ruddygore set had been beautifully designed by the late Ric Tringali for the jewel-box-sized Presentation Theatre stage. It was again used in the 1991 revival, also at Presentation. When the Lamplighters moved out of that venue in 1995, the set was sold because it was thought to be too small for the larger stages we have used ever since. A new Ruddygore set was built and used up through our 2006 production; but it was subsequently damaged and taken apart. When I assumed the position of Artistic Director in March 2013, there was no existing set. Although at that point Ruddygore was overdue to be performed again, we simply could not do it without a usable set.

And then, a fortuitous discovery was made. At the Gilbert & Sullvan Summit held by the Lamplighters in the summer of 2014, the head of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston, Steve Robbins, was in attendance. After seeing our production of The Pirates of Penzance, Mr. Robbins was greatly impressed, and expressed an interest in borrowing our set. He mentioned that his company owned a very attractive Ruddygore set, and maybe we could trade the two sets. Following the Summit, an exchange of photos took place, and we noticed a marked similarity between Houston’s Ruddygore set and our old Ruddygore set. Who knew? It turns out that Houston had purchased our original 1987 set of Ruddygore – so here we were, trading back our old set. It was too much happiness!

But could it work? The old set was too small for our new venues. The solution was simple: we would hire Peter Crompton, the brilliant designer of many of our sets, to upgrade and enlarge the Tringali Ruddygore for use on the larger stages we now employ. With the addition of some additional drops, flats and other pieces designed by Peter, we will now have the perfect stage setting on which to recreate the Ruddygore production last seen in Presentation Theatre in 1991. As someone once said, all is indeed well that ends well.

~ Rick Williams, Artistic Director '78

Ruddygore vs Ruddigore: The Tale of the Title

As our upcoming winter production, we are proud to present one of my personal favorites in the entire Gilbert & Sullivan canon: Ruddygore, or, The Witch’s Curse. So... is it Ruddygore? Or Ruddigore? And why the confusion? Thereon hangs a tale.

Ruddygore was the ninth collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan. The extraordinarily successful Mikado was running merrily along, breaking all of the team’s previous box office records, and making lots of money for the duo and their producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte. Sullivan decided it was high time to turn his attention back to writing the more “serious” music which he felt was his calling.

Gilbert, as usual, had other ideas. In order to lure Sullivan back to collaborating on another operetta score, he came up with the idea of a parody or burlesque of old-fashioned melodrama. His proposal came complete with a darkly sinister and cursed aristocratic villain; a pathetic mad girl previously victimized by the villain; a priggishly virtuous maiden next on his list; a snake-in-the-grass suitor out to seduce her; and a naïve young hero trying to save her from all these impending disasters. The twist was Gilbert’s addition of a supernatural element: an entire picture gallery of ghostly ancestors who would step down from their frames to threaten the current holder of the cursed aristocratic title with orders that must be obeyed on pain of an excruciating death. All would be resolved in absurdly topsy-turvy fashion, of course.

Gilbert’s idea was a reworking of a play he had written eighteen years previously called “Ages Ago.” (It was in fact at one of the rehearsals of that play that Gilbert and Sullivan had first met.) Sullivan immediately liked Gilbert’s proposal, and enthusiastically agreed to collaborate on the new work. All went well, and the new operetta opened on January 22, 1887, as Ruddygore.

Unfortunately, the first night was not a total success. When Gilbert and Sullivan came onstage to take their bows in response to the usual calls for “Author, Composer,” along with the applause there was some hissing and catcalls of “Boo! Give us back The Mikado!” Although the critics praised Sullivan’s music, many took objection to the title of the operetta. It was said that while “Ruddygore” might pass easily enough in the smoking room of a gentlemen’s club, “in the case of the ladies, on their lips such a title would scarcely sound pretty.”
Gilbert & Sullivan Ruddygore Shortly after the first night an acquaintance asked Gilbert: “How is Bloodygore going on?” Gilbert answered: “It is not Bloodygore, it is Ruddygore!” When the acquaintance replied, “Oh! Well, that’s the same thing,” Gilbert retorted: “Oh, is it? I suppose then, you will think that if I say I admire your ruddy countenance it’s the same as if I said I like your bloody cheek! Well––it isn’t––and I don’t!”

Irritated by the prudish criticism of his title, Gilbert stoutly resisted changing it. But Sullivan and Carte were quite concerned about the title’s effect on box office. In a fit of pique, Gilbert suggested changing it to “Kensington Gore, or, Robin and Richard Were Two Pretty Men.” Fortunately, that idea was not adopted. Instead, the duo settled on simply changing the spelling by one letter, to Ruddigore. Gilbert also undertook to make some cuts and amendments to the script (not all of them improvements), and the Victorian prudes were satisfied. The work went on to a successful run of over a year, and was repeatedly revived thereafter.

Since 1964 the Lamplighters have chosen to honor the original spelling of this comic masterpiece. We do so in order to honor W.S. Gilbert’s genius and his original vision of the operetta. We have also restored many of the lines and music cut from the original version.

~ Rick Williams, Artistic Director '78

Lamplighters - Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddygore
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
925-943-7469 · Purchase tickets
February 12-14, 2016

Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco
415-978-2787 · Purchase tickets
February 19-21, 2016

Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
650-903-6000 · Purchase tickets
February 27-28, 2016

Lamplighters Spotlight – Wm. H. Neil

Return of the Deadeye: The Farce Awakens was our 50th annual Gala performance. We thought that was a pretty big deal. However, we thought it was an even bigger deal that this is also Wm. H. (Bill) Neil's 50th season as an active performer with the Lamplighters so we surprised him with a Mayoral Declaration of Honor. That’s 50 years of continual performance with the Lamplighters!

Bill performed in his first Lamplighters production in 1965 in the role of Major Murgatroyd in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. Since then he has performed in virtually every G&S operetta, multiple times, in a total of 22 G&S bass roles — a record not likely to be duplicated — as well as in numerous roles in other Lamplighter operettas and musicals. His rich, deep bass voice is perfectly suited to the villains and character roles he has played, and still continues to play in his eighth decade of life. Artistic Director Rick Williams, who presented Bill with his certificate during intermission at our November 15th Gala performance at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, remembers being “in awe” of Bill when he joined the Lamplighters for Ruddygore in 1978, and added “his Despard was unbelievable! ... In every respect, Bill has been not only one of our all-time greatest performers on stage, but a consummate colleague and mentor to everyone with whom he has worked. And I am proud to call him both one of my own mentors, and a friend.”

Lamplighters present Wm H Neil with his mayoral declaration of honor

Bill exemplifies the Lamplighters' tradition of dedication to the highest possible artistic standards and the cultivation of a profoundly familial Company ethos and is a beloved and valued mentor to generations of new Lamplighter performers and Company members. You could also say that Bill Neil is the embodiment of the entire scope of the Lamplighters’ history in his own person, as well as a living link to the esteemed Founders of this Company, Orva Hoskinson and Ann Pool Mac Nab.

“I don’t know anywhere where the curtain raisers, the backstage people, and the trash-can emptiers are made to feel as much a part of the group.” – Wm. H. Neil. Come and see Bill continue to set records when he reprises his role as Old Adam in our upcoming production of Ruddygore!

The Lamplighters win at the 2015 Theatre Bay Area Awards

Phil Lowery and Rick Williams with the Lamplighters' award for outstanding production

Hot on the tail of our final Gala performance, in fact the very next evening, we dragged our exhausted selves out to the Theatre Bay Area Awards Ceremony at the Geary Theater in San Francisco. We had a very respectable nine finalists in the Musical Category and we took home three awards: Outstanding Costume Design - Melissa Wortman for Candide; Outstanding Music Direction - David Möschler for H.M.S. Pinafore; and Outstanding Production of a Musical for H.M.S. Pinafore.

What a great night, congratulations everyone and to all our nominees!

The nine finalists in this year's Theatre Bay Area Awards, Musical Category were:

  • H.M.S. Pinafore - Outstanding Production of a Musical
  • Phil Lowery - Oustanding Director of a Musical (H.M.S. Pinafore)
  • David Möschler - Outstanding Music Direction (H.M.S. Pinafore)
  • Jennifer Ashworth - Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Principal Role (H.M.S. Pinafore)
  • Cabiria Jacobsen - Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Featured Role (H.M.S. Pinafore)
  • The Ensemble of H.M.S. Pinafore - Outstanding Performance by an Acting Ensemble
  • Judy Jackson MacIlvaine - Outstanding Costume Design (H.M.S. Pinafore)
  • Melissa Wortman - Outstanding Costume Design (Candide)
  • Kerry Rider-Kuhn - Outstanding Wig Design (Candide)
  • A full list of nominees and recipients can be downloaded from Theatre Bay Area's website.

    3rd Annual Community Chorus

    As the New Year approaches, it's time to start sign-ups for our 3rd Annual Community Chorus! Led by Lamplighter Robby Stafford, this year's chorus rehearsals will take place at the Lamplighters Studio on Thursday evenings, beginning March 3 with a concert for your friends and families on Thursday, April 21. Exact details are being finalized - please contact Sarah at the Lamplighters office if you would like to join us this year -

    2015 Donor/Volunteer Appreciation Event

    With special thanks to our hosts, Tom & Nancy Lehrkind, for lending us their beautiful home and garden, our Annual Board of Trustees Party was a most enjoyable afternoon on a spectacularly gorgeous October day. We were delighted to see so many friends in attendance, and our thanks to the Lamplighters Board and singers for helping us celebrate our donors and volunteers. It was Too Much Happiness!

    2015 donor/volunteer event at Lamplighters

    End of Year Giving - Please donate to the Lamplighters

    ‘Tis the season for giving! Your tax-deductible donation will help keep the Lamplighters shining bright. You can…

  • Make an online gift now
  • Join the Maybud Club and provide monthly support
  • Be part of our CD Recording Project by sponsoring a Ruddygore track
  • Shop online through iGive for no extra cost - a small portion benefits the Lamplighters
  • Call us at 415-227-4797 to discuss making a gift of appreciated stocks, an unused vehicle, or in-kind goods and services.
  • Thank you for your generosity!

    Wish List

    In addition to donations of time and money, the Lamplighters always appreciates thoughtful in-kind gifts. The following is a short list of items that would make our mission easier: an iPad for our company store, plain white paper; vacations, gift certificates, air miles, and other items of value for our Gala auction. We are also seeking an electrician to install two ceiling fans in our rehearsal space (in spaces without current wiring).

    Please contact us at if you think you have something of interest. Lamplighters Music Theatre is a registered non-profit 501(c)3 organization and all donations are tax deductible to the extent allowable by law. We thank you for your continued support!