The Yeomen of the Guard, one of Gilbert and Sullivan's least satiric and most charming works, largely stars its rich, operatic score. The story, set at the Tower of London during Tudor times, is also beautifully constructe... more »d, with terrific pseudo-Shakespearean language. For such a vibrant piece, this video (part of the Opera World series of Gilbert and Sullivan works, made for the BBC in 1982) is strangely drab. The weakest element is Joel Grey as the melancholy clown Jack Point. The series mixes musical-comedy performers with opera singers, Americans with Brits. Grey's Broadway background isn't a drawback; in fact, some show-biz sparkle might have done him good. His sour, lethargic performance misses the potential for sunshine at the character's heart. Even his singing is doubtful--he has a hard time staying on key. Other actors are equally lackluster. David Hillman as Colonel Fairfax, around whom the plot's twists (and the two leading ladies) revolve, is fatally without charm. One redeeming presence is Alfred Marks as the dimwitted jailer Wilfred Shadbolt. Preposterously sure of himself, with a marvelous deadpan, this Wilfred comes to life more than anyone else on screen. For television, the operas in this series were restricted to a two-hour length. Most easily met that limit, but Yeomen underwent deep cuts. The result is both disappointing and confusing, with some major plot developments excised. And the film has been sloppily edited: dead moments mark a couple of junctures where songs, no doubt previously filmed, were snipped out. --David Olivenbaum« less
"The Brent-Walker series is currently the only complete (except for "Utopia, Limited" and "The Grand Duke") video set of Gilbert and Sullivan operas available. And, as far as I can tell, this is the only version of "Yeomen of the Guard" available on video in the U. S.This is the "serious" Gilbert and Sullivan, the closest thing to a grand opera the pair would ever do. If, like me, you have viewed the entire Brent-Walker series, you'll know that this production relies less on cutesy camera tricks and more on characterization and a real sense of the opera's purpose. The costumes and sets are really lovely, and the acting is very good, considering that many of the cast are singers before they are actors. Particular mention must be made of Alfred Marks as a likable Wilfred and Elizabeth Gale as a sympathetic Elsie (which is no mean feat; I consider Elsie the least sympathetic herione in the G & S canon).Pride of place, however, must go to Joel Grey's Jack Point, a stunning portrayal. I know there are those who disagree with me (I read one review that called him "dull as dishwater") but I find Grey a wonderful Point. He shouldn't be, of course -- he plays the part with an American accent and is a high tenor rather than the baritone the role calls for. However, the accent helps to mark Point as an outsider, and Grey has no problem with the lower end of his range. He really plays the role with a sense of the bitterness underneath the jester's facade, without alienating the affection of the audience. Jack Point is the pivotal part in this piece; depending on how the actor chooses to portray him, "Yeomen" can end up being a light operetta or a dark opera. Here, it is most decidedly the latter. Grey is especially moving in the final scene as well -- if he doesn't break your heart, you really must be a cynic.My review has been positive thus far, so why only three stars? Alas, the video is marred by the excision of no fewer than six entire numbers, as well as the opening verse of Phoebe's spinning song. Some of the most famous songs are gone -- both of Fairfax's arias as well as the quartets "When a Wooer goes a-wooing" and "Strange adventure." The decision for the elimination of these numbers is inexplicable. Apparently some of them were filmed and shown on the BBC broadcast, but no video version contains them. There is missing dialogue as well, most notably the scene between Elsie and the disguised Fairfax and the scene when Dame Carruthers discovers Sergeant Meryll's secret. Presumably these cuts were made so that the piece would fit into the two-hour time slot alotted to the other videos, but if so, that is a poor reason.So enjoy this video for what is there: costumes, sets, performances (especially Grey), but make sure you have a good recording handy so you don't have to do without the missing music."
Excellent in parts, but far from being a definitive version
Mark Snegg | Boone, NC USA | 01/31/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In general this is an excellent production, with high quality music and singing in the best D'Oyly Carte tradition. Elizabeth Gale as Elsie Maynard and Elizabeth Bainbridge as Dame Carruthers are both superb. They capture the parts to perfection, both in singing and acting. Geoffrey Chard as Sergeant Meryll, Peter Savidge as the Lieutenant, and Alfred Marks as Wilfred Shadbolt are also excellent. But I've given this version only 4 stars because there are some definite problems with it. Joel Grey is good, but somehow his rendition of Jack Point just doesn't quite work. The part of Phoebe is a good example of how *not* to do it - fake accent, very poor acting, and excessively operatic singing. The introduction by Douglas Fairbanks reaches an apex of inanity, but it's easy to skip it. More importantly, several songs and some parts of the dialog are cut. I don't know how anyone with a heart, or with any feeling for G&S, could have cut 'Is life a boon?' from the Yeomen of the Guard. The words are even engraved on Gilbert's tombstone. Still, on the whole, I'd say it's definitely worth watching."
Oh, the doing and undoing ... / When a jester goes a-wooing
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 09/22/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I am in general agreement with five of the preceding six Amazon reviewers. This is ultimately a disappointing version of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Yeomen of the Guard." It is all the more disappointing because its weaknesses arise from business decisions rather than artistic ones. These Brent Walker productions were rigidly locked into two-hour blocks of television broadcast time. Some, like "The Pirates of Penzance" and "HMS Pinafore" had to be stretched unconscionably. This one had to be cut with a very dull and bloody ax.
Save for one, the performers are very good. Alfred Marks, as Wilfred Shadbolt, the Tower of London's Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor, has a particularly commanding presence. (My English wife, however, regards the accent he affects as rather improbable.)
The weak link among the performers is the most famous of the bunch, Joel Grey. Perhaps owing to the ridiculously short rehearsal schedule, Grey is dull where he should be sharp, annoying where he should be engaging and a flat-out failure in portraying the one tragic character in all of Gilbert and Sullivan. Too bad.
The London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Chorus both sound fine. The conducting by Andrew Faris is quite satisfactory.
Some regard "Yeomen" as the most operatic of the G&S works. It is certainly unique in being first and foremost a romance--and a fairly dark-hued one at that--rather than a comedy. My wife, who appeared in two separate productions of "Yeomen" reserves that title of "most operatic" to G&S's "Princess Ida" and on a fair day when the wind is north by northwest, I agree with her.
TEXT: Large sections of spoken dialogue are omitted but the cuts in the musical texts are a far greater loss. The following songs and ensembles are missing from this performance:
Act I-- "When maiden loves, she sits and sighs," first verse of solo for Phoebe Meryll "Alas, I waver to and fro!" trio, Phoebe Meryll, Leonard Meryll, Sergeant Meryll "Is life a boon?" solo, Colonel Fairfax
Act II-- "Free from his fetters grim--" solo, Colonel Fairfax "Strange adventure, Maiden wedded," quartet, Colonel Fairfax, Sergeant Meryll, Dame Carruthers and Kate "When a wooer / Goes a-wooing," quartet, Elsie Maynard, Jack Point, Colonel Fairfax, Phoebe Meryll "Rapture, rapture," duet, Dame Carruthers, Sergeant Meryll
It may be noted that both solos and much else has been jettisoned from the part of the ostensible romantic tenor lead, Colonel Fairfax. All the music for both Kate and Leonard Meryll is gone. (This latter I find particularly galling, since Leonard Meryll was my role with San Francisco's Lamplighters--forty years ago.)
By my rough calculation, about nineteen minutes of music, including some of the best stuff in the show, are lost forever.
LIBRETTO: The booklet that accompanies this set neglects to point out that its text is much less than complete--an understandable enough omission, I suppose. W.S. Gilbert's stage directions have been abandoned wherever they have been ignored by the televison director and in some cases new directions have been inserted--again, understandable.
Not understandable at all, however, is why some ham-handed compositor has played fast and loose with Gilbert's verse structures. Where WSG in his carefully overseen printed editions has "Here's a man of jollity, / Jibe, joke, jollify! / Give us of your quality, / Come, fool, follify!", this libretto has "Here's a man of jollity, jibe, joke, jollify! / Give us of your quality, come, fool, follify!" This sort of slovenliness appears all through the printed text.
PRODUCTION: Overall, the production is quite handsome, even sumptuous. Tower Green is a fairly accurate reproduction of the Tower of London's Green as currently preserved. The interior of Sergeant Meryll's house is clearly based on the house of the Dutch painter Vermeer. The quarters of the Yeomen seems to spring out of any of several 17th Century Dutch genre paintings. With one exception, the costumes are good, although they are not those of Gilbert's specifically intended reign of Henry VIII (say 1540), but rather those of the time of Charles I (say 1630).
The exception is the costume of Jack Point. The man is a professional jester, for heaven's sake; he should not be the drabbest person on stage! W.S. Gilbert was a famous illustrator of his own published works. He clearly showed Jack Point dressed as though ready to pose for a portrait of the Joker in a new deck of cards.
The decision to bring the play forward by three generations is a bit puzzling. A down-at-the-heels jester on the road in the mid-16th Century is plausible. Shakespeare's one-time lead comedian and partner, Will Kempe, toured the length of England in the 1590s, performing comic dances. By the 1630s, though, the success of the established professional theater companies and the outright hostility of the Puritans would long-since have closed out the careers of any would-be wandering players.
Three stars for this "Yeomen of the Guard's" not-inconsiderable merits, but is should have been so MUCH better!"
Disappointing, but still worth seeing
wvmcl | Washington, D.C. | 04/28/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I hope someone someday will release a definitive video of Yeomen. This one is not it, although it is better than nothing and seems to be the only version available. Yeomen should be much better known, both to serious opera lovers and to G&S fans. Hoever, it is almost never performed outside Britain, and not very often there. There are two main problems with this version- it was cut to fit a TV length and Joel Grey was miscast as the jester Jack Point. There are several numbers missing from the middle of both acts. Act two in particular has a very abrupt and truncated feel. Joel Grey is a fine musical comedy performer, but he is out of his league in this more operatic work. This is particularly noticeable in his duets with Elizabeth Gale as Elsie and Alfred Marks as Wilfred- both of them very strong singers. The casting of comedians or Broadway performers in G&S productions might work for The Mikado or Pirates of Penzance, but not for Yeomen. Another quibble with the whole Opera World series - for the DVD release, why didn't they do optional English subtitles for the musical numbers? It probably would have been easier and cheaper than including a printed libretto with each disc."
Worth watching over and over
Jane Orient | Tucson, AZ USA | 07/05/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, I'm in love with Poor Jack Point (Joel Grey) and with Sir Arthur's music and Gilbert's lyrics. The video could be better; it leaves out a great song by Colonel Fairfax, and one of the weddings (Dame Carruthers really does get a man in the original). Elsie Maynard is one of the best leading ladies in this series of G&S. Wilfred, the assistant tormentor, is the perfect foil for Jack Point. A feast for the eyes and ears despite my quibbles."