Yeomen of the Guard is one of Sullivan's finest scores, certainly his most operatic, and it is performed all too seldom. The performance last night was fully worthy of the vehicle, and showed a skillful blend of enthusiasm and musical excellence. Bruce MacDonald was a charming Point, whose pleasantly intimate manner with the audience, especially in such numbers as "I've jest and Jibe," was thoroughly captivating. Playing a tricky "tragic clown" role, he managed to convey a bit of pathos without spoiling the essentially comic nature of the part.
His travelling partner, Elsie Maynard, received a stunning interception by Elizabeth Peterson, whose superb dramatic soprano was matched by the saucy verve of her acting. Even during the intricate chorus scenes she retained here individuality and her consciousness of the part and its demands. Her only flaw was occasional trouble with intonation, especially in some of here difficult ensemble entrances.
Miss Peterson's brilliant soprano was set off nicely, in an effective bit of casting, by the relaxed lyrical voice of Margot Sproul as Phoebe Meryll, whose demureness gave individuality to a role which the more exciting female parts might well have eclipsed.
As the romantic hero, Colonel Fairfax, Jerry Brown was faced with the dilemma which occurs in G. and S.--that the romantic hero tends towards insipidity compared with the comic hero, who always holds the audience's primary interest. Brown overcame this dilemma partially by playing the role for laughs in a rather moonstruck, Russel Nype manner.
If the principals had not been so good, they would have been engulfed by the secondary players. The most outstanding in this group was Victor Altshul as Sergeant Meryll, whose hearty lustiness dominated almost every scene that he was in. His second act duet with Marietta Perl, who made the most of "shrew" part as Dame Carruthers despite a little difficulty with her voice range, was the high point of the show from the comic standpoint.
Another clever piece of casting was the contrast between Altshul's heartiness and the effective combination of foolishness and sinisterness with which Paul Burkhardt played the part of "head jailer and assistant tormentor" Wilfred Shadbold. James Greene as Leonard Meryll and Al Hudson as Sir Richard Cholomondeley were adequate in supporting roles. Headsman James Gale was macabre.
The pace of the performance, which never lagged, must be credited largely to Stage Director Margaret Fairbank and Musical Director Wayne Paton. Paton coordinated the signing and accompaniment, capably done by Richard Freidberg, and managed to keep even the most crowded scenes from losing their focus. William Cowperthwaite's arrangement of the overture for two piano's played by Friedberg and Larry Berman, deserves special notice for setting standard and a mood which were maintained throughout the evening.
The facilities for staging at the Congregational church are far from ideal, but Robert Martin's set managed to make the stage appear much large than it was. The costumes were for the most part appropriately colorful, but one wonders why Fairfax made his initial appearance in back-strapped chinos tucked up at the knee and a tuxedo shirt with a lace ruffle at the neck.
The chorus is always important in setting the tone of a performance, and this chorus was spirited and brisk, without being obtrusive. The finale of Act I was a superb rendition of a very difficult scene, which combined dramatic excitement with important plot lines. The Yeomen, led by Robert Cort-right and William Nethercut, should be mentioned for their fine singing. The crowded theatre weekend should not keep lovers of good Gilbert and Sullivan from a brilliant performance.
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