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'Gondoliers': Croon Swoon


Gilbert & Sullivan may be strangers to some Orange County playhouses, but they find a regular spotlight at the Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills.

The duo's greatest hits, including "The Mikado," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "H.M.S. Pinafore," have been revived at the Chance, which now opens its fourth season with the less frequently produced "The Gondoliers." It's an enthusiastic staging with patches of lifting humor, but ultimately not polished enough to satisfy this 1889 operetta.

Director Kent Johnson and his cast find silly opportunities in the silly story. Johnson even has the audacity to dress a quintet of characters in Village People get-ups to rouse the second act. An old joke, sure, but it prompts laughs and fits the production's giddy tone.

The nagging problem, however, is erratic singing. There are a few charming turns, especially among the women, but it can slide from accomplished to barely adequate in a chorus change. That just won't do with Gilbert & Sullivan's rich score.

The Venice gondoliers of the title are Marco (Nikhil Korula) and Giuseppe (E. Philip Schneider), ever-grinning bachelors ready to marry the fetching Tessa (Candice Balen) and Gianetta (Kristy Errera). They're all surprised to learn the gondoliers were apparently born in Barataria and one of them is heir to its throne.

Mixed in are Casilda (Erika Ceporius), the daughter of the penniless Duke of Plaza Toro (Michael Buss) and his wife (Barbara Gibbs). Casilda, supposedly, was married to one of the gondoliers at birth and is now expected to join him. But she loves the lowly drummer, Luiz (Timothy Quirus). The ominous Don Alhambra (Casey Long) lurks about, pushing everybody this way and that as the plot unfolds.

A pair of the best voices, fortunately, belong to Balen and Errera. Balen's clear, bell-like tones stand out, and Errera is always confident. Schneider also has a crisp style, but Korula seems to talk as much as sing his tunes.

It's a small stage, which doesn't help Jenna Kantor's fairly demanding choreography, a combo of the athletic and twitchy Monty Pythonesque moves. At least Oanh Nguyen's simple set, with its pretty faux stained-glass background, doesn't intrude on the action.

"The Gondoliers," Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. $15 to $18. Ends Feb. 24. (714) 821-6903.

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