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Maid for laughs, not love

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SOMEONE at the New York City Opera must be accruing some serious frequent-flier miles on British Airways. The company has recently specialized in recruiting West End stars rarely seen on our shores to star in their productions.

Their latest coup is Michael Ball, now starring in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Patience," a lively revival filled with madcap humor.

The 1881 operetta depicts the comic entanglements that ensue when two rival poets, the dashing Archibald Grosvenor (Kevin Burdette) and the pompous Reginald Bunthorne (Ball), vie for the affections of the simple milkmaid Patience (Tonna Miller), who cares little for artistic matters.

A group of soldiers, meanwhile, attempts to woo a chorus of lovesick maidens who have eyes only for men of an artistic bent.

Director Tazewell Thompson's staging, which begins with the maidens performing a series of stilted dance poses, overcomes the dated aspects of the piece with its antic merriment.

Ball is the best thing about the production, a co-production with Glimmerglass Opera. The star, who'll return to Broadway this fall in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White," delivers a hilarious turn as the poet modeled to some degree after Oscar Wilde.

His obvious delight in his silly characterization is infectious and, tellingly, his non-operatic voice delivers the clearest enunciation of Gilbert's convoluted lyrics.

As is often the case, the cavernous State Theater removes the intimacy necessary to fully enjoy such a piece. But any carping must be balanced with gratitude for the company for presenting this rarely seen G&S gem instead of such tired warhorses as "Pirates" or "Pinafore."

PATIENCE New York City Opera, New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. (212) 721-6500. Through Oct. 5.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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