For a good many years, the team of Gilbert and Sullivan ruled the British operetta kingdom with their usual combination of tuneful choruses and singable tunes, comic characters, a plot that may or may not make sense, and a happy ending. And then they went for something entirely different and hatched Yeoman of the Guard. It sort of does combine all these elements, although perhaps not the happy ending, which is debatable, even today, 127 years after the London premiere.
Set during the time of Elizabeth I within the environs of the Tower of London, home of the famed Yeomen, the plot is sort of a double double-cross. A small platoon of yeomen play an important role in this operetta, whereas the double-cross refers to not just one or two, but three — somewhat reluctant betrothals which occur, with hardly a happy marriage to be seen. But who really cares about the details, when the music itself is sublime and the singing throughout does everyone proud.
Colonel Fairfax has been sentenced to death on a false charge of sorcery, brought by a cousin in hopes of acquiring the Colonel’s estate. However, should he marry, his estate would go to his bride. So a bride is found, who agrees to be blindfolded during the ceremony, expecting only to be a well-paid widow within the hour. As part of the anticipated celebration of the execution, the jester Jack Point and his companion Elsie Maynard have arrived and proceed to entertain the gathered townfolk. It is during this jollity, that young Elsie is invited to become the hour-long bride for the Colonel. But a ringer for Colonel Fairfax is found and smuggled into the Tower, so when time for the execution arrives, he is nowhere to be found. Now what?
Director Julie Wright Costa freely admits that, having appeared in several productions of Yeoman through the years, she was eagerly looking forward to directing it at Ohio Light Opera. And what a splendid vision is it too! With the help of conductor J. Lynn Thompson, the production zipped right along, while yet allowing everyone time to breathe.
Just as Shakespeare loved his clowns, Yeoman includes several of them. Foremost is veteran Ted Christopher as the wandering jester Jack Point. A splendid baritone and lighter-than-air dancer, he brings immense poignancy to the role, while drawing laughter with nearly every word and/or gesture. Second (at least in this production) is mezzo Olivia Maughan as Phoebe Meryll, who brings down the house with her flirtatious “Were I Your Bride.” This is sung to the head jailer and assistant tormenter Wilfred Shadbolt in the person of baritone Brad Baron, who at times gives the impression of being made of rubber. These three actors are superb.
In slightly smaller parts, Boyd Mackus is Sergeant Meryll, father of Phoebe and Leonard (in the capable hands of Stephen Faulk) and a somewhat younger veteran, Sandra Ross, is the stately housekeeper of the Tower, Dame Carruthers. The Dame has her eye on the sergeant, who is in charge of the Yeomen.
Yeoman begins with a soliloquy by Phoebe, accompanied by her spinning wheel, in the ever-truthful “When Maiden Loves, She Sits and Sighs.” The attempt by Jack Point to teach the art of being a jester to the willing Shadbolt is hysterical. Elsie finally falls in love with Fairfax, while Phoebe is more or less blackmailed into accepting Shadbolt, and Dame Carruthers captures the sergeant, leaving the broken-hearted Jack Point to — no spoilers here. You’ll have to see it to discover the surprise ending.
The terrific costumes were designed by Stehanie Genda, while the set (which looks exactly like the photos I took when I visited the Tower in 1997) is by Tymberley Whitesel, with lighting by Shannnon Schwietzer. Spencer Reese was the choreographer of note.
There are three more productions of Yeoman of the Guard: Thu 7/30, Sat 8/1 and Wed 8/5. For ticket information, visit the web-site: ohiolightopera.org or call the box office at 330.263.2345.
For an additional treat, to read more about and hear clips of some of the music for each of the scheduled shows, go here.