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GOINGS ON: SANTA BARBARA : Court Jesters : Lobero Theatre's 'Trial by Jury' is Gilbert and Sullivan at their earliest and perhaps funniest.

July 12, 1990|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

History definitely tends to repeat itself. It may take some time, but it eventually gets around to it.

Back in 1875 lyricist William Gilbert and songwriter Arthur Sullivan introduced the comic operetta "Trial by Jury" at the Royalty Theatre in London. About two years later the show made an appearance at the Jose Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara.

In the 115 years since then, the Lobero has dropped the Jose from its name, but not the operetta from its stage. On Saturday and Sunday the Gilbert and Sullivan Company of Santa Barbara will do its version of the first published work by the two men.

The group is made up of about 60 performers, some with professional experience, who have put on two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas each year since 1982.

When it debuted, the 40-minute "Trial by Jury" was the opening act to a main show. As luck would have it, it got spectacular reviews, better than those received by the main attraction. Theater owner Richard D'Oyly Carte, knowing a good money-making opportunity when he saw it, signed Gilbert and Sullivan to a contract to produce a certain number of shows.

The rest is history.

" 'Trial by Jury' is kind of a spoof on the whole legal system of Victorian England," said Bill Budd, who plays the judge in the operetta and is the founder of the Santa Barbara theater group. "It's a court scene with a breach of promise suit going on in the courtroom--the guy agreed to marry the girl and then decides not to. The jury is supposed to be unbiased but it's definitely not, because of the loveliness of our plaintiff."

The comedy, which has no spoken dialogue, just music and song, involves a courtroom tussle between defendant and plaintiff that is so messy the judge decides to settle things by marrying the woman himself.

"The jokes are as current today as they were when they wrote them more than 100 years ago," Budd said.

The 57-year-old Budd has been doing Gilbert and Sullivan since he was a teen-ager in New York. It would be safe to say he's a fanatic of the duo.

"They are a unique combination. Gilbert has some of the funniest writing, and Sullivan's music is beautiful," he said. "The fact that it has lasted over a century makes it unique. People who are into Gilbert and Sullivan are kind of nutsy in a way. They'll go anywhere to see a show. We've got a regular who's coming in from Phoenix."

In addition to "Trial by Jury," the cast will present an original piece titled "Gilbert's Dream."

Co-written by Budd and Anne Anderson, the group's orchestra conductor, it's a fictional discussion between Gilbert and theater owner Carte.

"There were a lot of fights between Gilbert and Sullivan. They never got together socially. They were in it for the money, basically," Budd said. "In 'Gilbert's Dream' Carte is trying to convince Gilbert to stick with it. Carte has moved himself into the future and has seen that the works are popular for 100 years."

To demonstrate this popularity, Carte takes Gilbert to the Lobero Theatre in 1990, where cast members, situated in the audience, perform some Gilbert and Sullivan songs.

* WHERE AND WHEN: "Trial by Jury" will be performed on Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8.50 (general admission) and $6.50 (seniors and children). The Lobero Theatre is located at 33 E. Canon Perdido, 963-0761.

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