Twit meets girl, courtesy of Gilbert and Sullivan

~ North - 15/09/2005 by Robert Feldberg~

New York City Opera production of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, 63rd Street and Columbus Avenue.

Music by Arthur Sullivan. Libretto by W.S. Gilbert. Directed by Tazewell Thompson.

With Michael Ball, Tonna Miller and Kevin Burdette.

Tickets: $16 to $120. CenterCharge: (212) 721-6500 or Through Oct. 5.

The funny, stylish production of "Patience" at the New York City Opera demonstrates why the operetta is regarded by some Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados as one of the team's best works - and also why it's not in the top rank of G&S popularity.

The show, staged with perfectly placed tongue-in-cheek by Tazewell Thompson, has one of Sullivan's loveliest and most varied scores and some of Gilbert's cleverest writing.

And in the performance of English actor Michael Ball - who'll be on Broadway later this season in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Woman in White" - it has an absolutely hilarious comic turn.

Wearing a long, curly wig and an expression of profound self-love, Ball plays Reginald Bunthorne, a writer of verse so exalted and ethereal its preciousness is matched only by that of his personality. (The character was based in part on Oscar Wilde, with the main difference being that Wilde was talented.)

Exhaling pretentiousness through every pore, Bunt-horne has captivated all the ladies of the town - damsels in love with the idea of spiritual love - except for Patience (Tonna Miller), a milkmaid who's too down-to-earth to claim to know what love is. Bunthorne, of course, fancies only the unattainable Patience.

It turns out that Patience does have a vague memory of love. When she was 4, there was this boy of 5. ... Well, he soon shows up, having become a handsome young poet (Kevin Burdette) who, if anything, is even more affected than Bunthorne. The rival writers eventually have it out in a vaudeville-inspired song-and-dance number that's a hoot.

The usual explanation for the show's middling appeal over the years is that the target of Gilbert's satirical jabs, Victorian aestheticism - or, rather, the pseudo-artistic excesses that it prompted - has become too obscure for audiences. But almost all of Gilbert's librettos were inspired by contemporary aspects of English life.

The craze for things Japanese that is satirized in "The Mikado" or the class system gently eviscerated in "H.M.S. Pinafore" are hardly of prime modern interest, yet those shows are eternally popular.

The reason is that Gilbert's humor is, ultimately, universal. And that is also the case with "Patience," in which the comically awful poetry and the preening men and self-deluding women captivated by it remain great objects of fun.

Where "Patience" falters is in its lack of dramatic momentum. The folly of aestheticism dominates almost every scene, with little effort to fully engage the audience in the romantic triangle or the subplot of the wooing of the languid ladies by a sturdy regiment of red-coated dragoons. Even for Gilbert, seldom over-concerned with the urgency of plot, there's very little action.

So, despite a lively production full of interpolated funny stuff - Bunthorne recites the lyrics of "Memory" - the show droops at times over its 2-hour, 40-minute playing time. But even with that, the City Opera has given us a very entertaining "Patience."

With biggest thanks to Doris L. for finding this great review

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