Shaky 'Yeomen' Sings with Heart

The Yeomen of the Guard by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan directed by Eileen St. David at the Agassiz Theater December 7--9

Phoebe Meryll (Anna Blair '98) loves Colonel Fairfax (Joel Derfner '95), but he's in jail and is about to get the ax. Luckily, the head jailer Wilfred Shadbolt (Martin Lebwohl '96) loves Phoebe. With the help of her father, Sergeant Meryll (Bob Grady), and her sparkling eyes and sparkling other things, Phoebe swipes the cell key from Shadbolt. But, thinking he'll be executed soon. Fairfax suddenly decides to marry someone, anyone, in order to prevent his estate from going to a greedy and conniving relative. Sergeant Meryll sets Fairfax free and orchestrates a totally unbelievable switcheroo which involves Fairfax posing as Phoebe's brother and taking up his position as a Yeoman of the Guard, allowing him to roam freely without suspicion. in a healthy dose of expletives, tacky clothes, a dangerous audience and it's as if you're in 16th-century Ricki Lake or Rolanda territory. But the scenario actually belongs to the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players' fall contribution to the Agassiz stage, The Yeomen of the Guard.

Like Ricki and Rolanda, The Yeomen of the Guard's problems are obvious. To begin with, the orchestra is needlessly large and too often competes with the singing. There are some moments in the show where you just can't hear what is coming out of the singers' mouths, though the instruments' blasts couldn't be any clearer. In much of the first act, Blair's fine but tentative voice does not reach the audience with the strength it should, and it's hard to blame her. Outdoing an army of brass, wind, reeds, and percussion is no easy task, especially since the Agassiz has no pit; instead, the orchestra is crammed between the stage and the first row of seats. When intelligible, the Citizens of the Tower of London are at best satisfactory. Though their swinging and swaying could have been sharper and better choreographed, they looked incredibly happy doing it. The grim faced quartet of Yeomen, looking a bit ridiculous in their putty, bright red uniforms, function more as a sight gag than a meaningful musical contribution to the show.

But all is not lost in the first act. Just when you thought things were as complex as they were going to get, in come Jack Point (Doug Miller '96) and Elsie Maynard (Heidi Brown '99), a couple of charming strolling singers. Elsie agrees to marry Fairfax--she can't resist the hundred crowns offered--and, of course, Point cares for Elsie, but he hasn't declared himself to her. Their duets are the best thing about the show, hands down. Brown has a wonderful voice, powerful and elegant. Miller's adorable song and dance numbers win the audience over in no time.

As the once-doomed and now newly wedded Fairfax, Derfner gives a strong performance. Unlike most of the other actors, Derfner adds a distinctive edge to his character. Admirably, he wants to break through the stock character-ness of Fairfax, and for the most part succeeds in this endeavor.

In the second act the plot unravels: Fairfax gets Elsie, and poor Point gets a mouthful of dust, despite his "pretty, pretty wit." Phoebe's father gets together with the Dame Carruthers (played very well by Katherine Bryant), and Shadbolt is left with nothing. As we would expect, loose ends are drawn and tied into a neat how and after over 2 1/2 hours, with few moments of truly good performance, we are grateful.

Yeomen of the Guard is on shaky grounds: Proceed at your own risk.