The Yeomen of the Guard
This more serious work from Gilbert & Sullivan still offers lots of escapist fun
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., June 18, 2010
The Yeomen of the Guard
Travis High School Performing Arts Center 1211 E. Oltorf, 494-8497
Through June 20
Running time: 3 hr.
The Yeomen of the Guard appeals to two groups of people: the Gilbert & Sullivan diehards who bring their yellowed copies of the score to the performance of this less frequently staged opera and people who simply enjoy grand music with a silly story.
G&S fans and scholars will protest. The Yeomen of the Guard is considered one of the more serious works of the extensive Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire. But listen: We're grading on a curve of comic operas. This is a story of a man, wrongly accused, who heads merrily to his own execution with that classic British stiff upper lip, pausing only to marry a randomly chosen, blindfolded woman and divert his fortune away from the cousin who got him into this mess in the first place. He's saved at the last minute by a family who owes him one, and, disguised as a prison guard, he then sticks around to see what happens next. Jesters, mistaken identity, overlapping romances: It has elements from the goofiest of Shakespearean comedies and an ending that worked just fine for late 19th century audiences but for most people today is just plain old weird (unless you brought your copy of the score and you know about these things).
This is all to say that The Yeomen of the Guard is more charming than antiquated. The original production premiered during a period of strong British patriotism, and glimmers of that are evident in the characters' stoic admiration for the status quo of life in the Tower of London. I would not attempt to disguise myself as a Gilbert & Sullivan expert, but I imagine the appeal for so many fans of these comic operas lies in the happy nature of the music. Admittedly, "happy" is perhaps not an official term of opera or musical theatre criticism and scholarship, but you get my meaning, right? The music is just so ... chipper, even when Colonel Fairfax (Holton Johnson) is an hour out from his own execution, or later, when more than one character agrees to a marriage that's less than desirable.
Under Artistic Director Ralph MacPhail Jr. and the musical direction of Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin has put together a strong production of The Yeomen of the Guard. Standout performances include Michelle Haché as Elsie Maynard, the romantic lead, and Russell Gregory as Sergeant Meryll, the elder yeoman, but they are joined by many good singers. One further reason to catch Yeomen is to see more dramatic songs like "Strange Adventure!" mixed in with the typical Gilbert & Sullivan repertoire of fast-tempo music.
At three hours, the production doesn't speed along like some of its songs, but for fans of great singing, so much the better. The Yeomen of the Guard offers escapist fun with good performers for an evening of summer entertainment.