If “Rugantino” is a sly example of Roman life in 1830, then the citizens must have been very tolerant of charismatic scoundrels. Rugantino is a footloose, feckless, fun-loving rogue who is loaded with ruganza (arrogance). Since he has no employer to answer to, he spends his days playing tricks and making bets, quick-witted and fast with his knife. Occasionally, he will wind up in the public pillory or throttled by a jealous husband — — ma que sera, sera.
Rugantino has a female accomplice Eusebia, another con artist. He introduces her as his sister when she is actually his ex-wife. They charm their way into free accommodations at the inn of Mastro Titta, Rome’s executioner, who falls under Eusebia’s spell. Mastro Titta already has a wife but their marriage is annulled as a reward after he chops off the 300th head.
Rugantino makes a bet that he will seduce beautiful Rosetta, married to the violently protective Gnecco er Matriciano. Rosetta gives the rogue a clue how to win her heart: make her laugh. He does and they make love. Rugantino promises her he will be silent but he can’t resist bragging. Unfortunately, Rosetta overhears his boasting and is deeply hurt.
During carnival, when everyone is masked, Gnecco is stabbed in a brawl with a criminal. Though Rugantino was with another lover during the murder, he comes forward claiming to be the assassin, motivated by his love for Rosetta. Doing his duty, Mastro Titta will guillotine him — — however, the citizens have now discovered that Rugantino had a noble heart.
I kept hoping a witness would declare that Rugantino was innocent and he would be saved. To me, an execution is a peculiar finale to a comedy but the audience seemed to enjoy this ending.
Rugantino has been portrayed on screen and stage by the most prominent Italian actors, including Nino Manfredi, Enrico Montesano, and Adriano Celentano. In this production, the role is played by 48-year-old Enrico Brignano; born in Rome, he is one of the most famous comedians in Italy.
The 50th Anniversary production of “Rugantino” stars Enrico Brignano as Rugantino, with Serena Rossi as Rosetta, Vincenzo Failla as Mastro Titta, Paola Tiziana Cruciani as Eusebia, and Armando Silverini as Banditore/Vegliante/Conte Leopoldo.
Rugantino, one of Italy’s most successful musicals, comes to New York City Center to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of its Broadway debut. The show stars Italy’s top comedian Enrico Brignano as Rugantino, with 50 actors, dancers and singers, including Armando Silverini, who played Cardinal Severini in the original production. The tour will bring eight containers of equipment including updated costumes and hand-painted sets that were restored from the original production.
MF Production presents Enrico Brignano in “Rugantino,” in celebration of 50th Anniversary of the show’s Broadway debut, from June 12, 13 and 14, 2014 at New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, NYC. Tickets start at $35 (premium seating is also offered) and are available at nycitycenter.org, by phone at 212.581.1212, or in person at the box office. Performances are on Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm. Rugantino will be performed in Italian with English subtitles.