Presented by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, NYC, May 1-4.
The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, who have carried the G&S banner up and down the country for nearly 30 years, are highly professional in some respects, somewhat amateurish in others. This mixture is beguiling at best and irritating at worst; "The Yeomen of the Guard" shows the company at its best.
"Yeomen" is the most somber of all the G&S works, more a melodrama than a comedy. In the Tower of London, Colonel Fairfax awaits execution for a crime he did not commit. Daringly rescued, he is eventually united with Elsie Maynard, the sweetheart of the jester Jack Point. Thus, as in "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "The Mikado," the comic light baritone loses his soprano bride-to-be to the handsome tenor, but this time he is truly heartbroken—and the fact that he is a professional jester makes for broad but touching irony.
NYGASP is not a small-scale operation: "Yeomen" has a cast of 36. The stage direction (by Albert Bergeret, the company's artistic director, who also musical directed, and Jan Holland), choreography (Janis Ansley-Ungar), scenery (Richard Manfredi and Albere), lighting (Sally Small), and costumes (Jan Holland) are neither very sophisticated nor highly imaginative, and certainly not lavishly budgeted, but all decisions are clearly rooted in affection for the material. The acting is external and declamatory—NYGASP sorely needs a good dose of Stanislavsky (who once staged "The Mikado")—but it is always spirited, and not annoyingly excessive. Stephen O'Brien is Jack Point, Kimilee Bryant is Elsie, Keith Jameson is Fairfax, and Melissa Unkel is Phoebe (also in love with Fairfax). Tyler Bunch as Wilfred (in love with Phoebe) is more in the moment than the others, and consequently funnier.
What sustains "The Yeomen of the Guard," however, is Sullivan's music: sometimes ardent, sometimes pathetic, sometimes jaunty, sometimes stern and even majestic, but above all, ravishingly melodious. And the music, under Jeffrey Kresky's baton, is in good hands. The 25-piece orchestra makes a brave sound, and the singing is a constant pleasure.