Madison Savoyards: The Yeomen of the Guard
After you've spent the last couple of Sunday afternoons performing in
musical theatre, what better to do with your first afternoon off than go
to someone else's production?
That's exactly what we did on the 26th, driving to Madison to catch the
closing performance of the Savoyard's production of Gilbert and
Sullivan's "The Yeomen of the Guard." We made it an outing, getting into
town in time to get lunch at Kabul on State Street, a favorite of ours,
and then ambling over to the Wisconsin Union for ice cream.
We were particularly interested in "Yeomen," since neither of us had
ever seen it. A nice thing about having a resident company dedicated to
Gilbert and Sullivan is that, if you stick with them long enough, they
will work through the entire oeuvre, instead of just doing "Mikado",
"Pinafore," or "Pirates of Penzance," which are the "big three" and what
you usually get from a touring or repertory company. (Savoyards last did
"Yeomen" in 1995.)
The production crammed an attractive set, representing the courtyard of
the Tower of London, onto the smallish Old Music Hall stage. It was
intentionally decorated in a pen-and-ink style inspired by Charles
Addams and "Richard" Gorey (the program should have said "Edward"--),
which rather gave the effect of one of those paper castle models.
We found the music and song of "Yeomen of the Guard," supposedly Gilbert
and Sullivan's favorite of their collaborations, particularly charming.
In particular, the plot, with few exceptions such as Colonel Fairfax and
Elsie Maynard being blindfolded when married, does not venture very far
into "topsy-turvydom," with its episodes of escapes, disguises, and
last-minute reprieves not being at all far removed from the main run of
Victorian melodrama or even Shakespeare. With Gilbert's script in a more
subdued key, Sullivan was free to concentrate on the beauty of the
music, with more intricate, lyrical, and involved tunes for the songs
and choruses as distinguished from the more bumptious music found in,
for example "Pirates of Penzance." And I think it is probably hard to
find a song in the G&S repertoire that is prettier than "I Have a Song
to Sing, O!".
The Savoyards production was very nice. Besides the aforementioned set,
the company splashed out on costumes, needing to have thirteen of the
famous red-and-gold "Beefeater" outfits plus Sgt. Meryll's blue version.
They also did some nice bits such as using the bell of the Old Music
Hall clock to strike the hour of Colonel Fairfax's execution.
The Savoyard's chorus and orchestra were well rehearsed and tuneful.
The female leads, Sarah Z. Johnson as "Phoebe Meryll," Leigh Akin as
"Dame Carruthers," and Catherine Schweitzer as "Elsie Maynard," were all
in good voice that carried to the back of the house, snag with good
accents, and clear enunciation. Regrettably, the Savoyards were not as
well served in their male leads. Ryan McEldowney in the role of "Colonel
Fairfax", the romantic lead, had a noticeably nasal tone. Donavan
Armbruster (Jack Point) and Governor Harris (Sergeant Meryll) both had
comparatively weak voices, which meant that they were overshadowed by
the ladies in their duets, and Jack Point's patter songs, such as "Oh! A
Private Buffoon is a Light-Hearted Loon," although well enunciated, did
not carry well to the balcony. Daniel Graupner, as Jailor Wilfred
Shadbolt, on the other hand, has a big, booming voice, but sang his one
song, "When Jealous Torments Reach My Soul," with very little variation
of expression. That being said, they gave it their all, and careful
stage direction and a good level of comic acting made it a very
enjoyable show and we were very glad to have made the effort to have
taken it in.