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Tuesday, July 14, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Gondoliers' At Bagley Wright Is A Delectable Venetian Farce

"The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria," by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, presented by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at the Bagley Wright Theatre, Seattle Center; Thursday through Saturday and July 22-25 at 8 p.m.; Saturday and July 25 at 2 p.m.; $7-$15; 628-0888.

Gilbert and Sullivan musicals are like sweets in an English candy store - not as nutritious as other fare, perhaps, but oh, so tart and delicious and hard to stop popping into your mouth!

For 38 years, Seattle has been lucky to have a remarkably high-quality, amateur Gilbert and Sullivan Society to serve up these time-tested penny candies. "The Gondoliers," which opened this past Friday at the Bagley Wright Theatre, is the society's current delectable confection. It's first-rate stuff - vivid, funny and, for the most part, well-staged and well-sung. The company last presented "The Gondoliers" in 1983.

Set in Venice in the 18th century, "The Gondoliers" is a love farce about a gold-digging Spanish duke, down on his luck, who sails to Venice in search of the vanished Prince of Barataria, to whom his dim-witted daughter was wed in infancy. The duke thinks the prince has grown up as one or the other of two handsome Venetian gondoliers, which sets the stage for a lot of friendly, psuedo-Italian music and dance on the piazza, with a series of mistaken identities and mild confusions serving as plot.

These escapist shenanigans take place on a handsome (though

somewhat blandly colored) "piazzetta," with arches, heraldic shields, obelisks and a cleverly crafted "pier" at the back where gondolas glide up. Choral singing throughout is crisp and clear.

Dave Ross - yes, that Dave Ross, the talk-show host on KIRO - does a wickedly funny job, mugging and posing with his cane as the foppish, bewigged Duke of Plaza-Toro, smartly capturing the Gilbert and Sullivan love of double-timed tongue-twisters and silly rhymes. The diminutive Ross is well-cast for comedy beside his jumbo-size Duchess, Lori Colvig.

Christine Peters is on the money as the Duke's dumb blond daughter, Casilda. (Unfortunately, her partner, David Heffner, as Luiz the Duke's attendant, is not quite up to Peters' singing level, or for that matter, to the rest of the cast's.) William J. Darkow, as the Grand Inquisitor, is somewhat two-dimensional, though his bass/baritone voice projects pleasantly and he makes good comic use of a long, white wig.

Tenor Jon Palmason (as gondolier Marco) and baritone Allen Howe (as gondolier Giuseppe), both convincing singers and actors, share one of the staging highlights of the production. Kneeling together under a hot spotlight, they are surrounded by a dark, crushing crowd of gondoliers demanding to know which is the real prince.

Though the staging in the opening group number is somewhat stodgy, director Gordon Gutteridge and choreographer Marianne Gutteridge do a smart job with small ensembles - particularly a deadpan "moonwalk" in "From the sunny Spanish shore" - and generally keep the pace lively until the end of the second act, which is hard to keep afloat anyway, episodic as it is.

This is a minor complaint, beside the under-rehearsed and consistently out of tune pit orchestra, which is often a major annoyance, in what is otherwise a very bright and delightful show.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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