HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – High Victorian Fun in Volcano

By Kelly Moran

High Victorian Fun in Volcano

Every few years, one of the greatest legacies of the Victorian Era is celebrated on the Big Island. If you enjoy musical comedies, you can thank the “operettas” that premiered in London in the 1880s and ‘90s. Their tone was light and comic; much of the dialog was spoken; the songs introduced the characters and advanced the plot – in other words, the model for all the musical comedies that have followed.

The greatest (and still the funniest) of the Victorian operettas were invented by two rather unlikely collaborators.  Sir Arthur Sullivan was a celebrated classical composer. His theater pieces are snappy and beautiful and immensely memorable, but he thought he was wasting his talents on such light fare. Sir William S. Gilbert was England’s leading humorist, able to fill his lyrics with more rhymes in English than anyone before, and few since. But he had no ear for music. Yet the entertainments that Gilbert and Sullivan created together have been performed continuously, all over the world. You can be sure that there is a G&S production on stage, somewhere, right now.

In fact, you can see one here on the Big Island this coming weekend and next. G&S operettas are a regular feature of the Kilauea Drama and Entertainment Network (KDEN), presented at the Kilauea Theater, in Volcano. Producer/Director Suzi Bond has been doing two musical shows a year, there, for ten years, and this is the fifth in her G&S series.

On stage this year is Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse. Though not as well-known as The Mikado and HMS Pinafore, this one has plenty of what G&S operettas are famous for: lovesick maidens, hidden identities, an elderly spinster, a hero who’s not as bold as he might like to be, and a “topsy-turvy” conflict between love and duty. (Full disclosure: I’ve gotten the lowdown on Gilbert and Sullivan from one of my clients, who’s in the show.) The plot of Ruddigore is laugh-out-loud funny, a quirky parody of old-time lurid melodramas, complete with a mustache-twirling villain, and ghosts who come to life from their painted portraits!

Dame Hannah + Bridesmaids

Dame Hannah (l.) astonishes the corps of professional bridesmaids with the legend of the witch’s curse on all the Baronets of Ruddigore.

The orchestra is large, and so is the cast, with much young local talent — as there always is in the KDEN shows. And the theater itself is a little 280-seat gem inside Kilauea Military Camp, built by the WPA and CCC in the 1930s for servicemen’s R&R, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (From about half an hour before show-time, you won’t have to pay the park admission if you’re going to the theater.)

Ghosts Torment the newest Baronet

The ghosts of his ancestors hound the newest Baronet of Ruddigore to suffer the curse: he must commit one heinous crime a day or die in agony.


There are six upcoming performances: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays July 18, 19, 25 and 26; and 2:30 matinees on Sundays July 20 and 27. Tickets are available in Hilo at The Most Irresistible Shop, in Volcano at Kilauea General Store, and in Kea’au at Kea’au Natural Foods. The price is $15 general; $12 for students, $10 for children. Call KDEN at 982-7344 or email for more info about this delightful musical — oops, I mean operetta.

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