Yeomen of the Guard

Some days you get lucky.

Last night I was sitting at my computer, no plans for the evening, when the phone rang and a friend asked if I was free to go see Yeomen of the Guard put on by the Lamplighters at the Lesher Center.  Gail has no interest at all in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, so I put on a clean shirt and off I went.  Gail had dinner with Iris at Nibblers, but that’s another story.

Yeomen is mildly anomalous as G&S operettas go, with more prose than singing in the exposition, not a fairy or magical twist anywhere and a relatively downbeat last scene.  I’d recap the plot, but W.S. Gilbert liked to keep things moving–this thing has more plot than you can shake a stick at. Suffice it to say that there is mistaken identity, false identity, love requited and unrequited, backstabbing, crosses and double crosses, bad puns and final redemption.

What I was struck by much more than the plot were the lyrics.  W. S. Gilbert was the wordy half of the partnership,  largely remembered for his plots and characters, but  truly brilliant as a lyricist. The opera, although in English, is presented with supertitles.  At first I didn’t see why they would be necessary, but the rapid pace of the words combined with Gilbert’s penchant for coining his own vocabulary made the supertitles a real treat—reading them showed me what  a wizard he was with rhyme and meter.  I was reminded of the complex rhyme structures of Robert Service or Edgar Allan Poe, along with the wit and inventiveness of Stephen Sondheim.

As always with the Lamplighters, the singing is wonderful, the costumes are beautiful and the sets are, well, sort of interesting.  I was especially impressed with Jennifer Ashworth, singing the role of Elsie Maynard.  Lawrence Ewing, as Jack Point, the jester, does a masterful job of singing but doesn’t seem to have the same skills at reciting lines–I found it very difficult to understand a thing he said.

The lighting design leaves a bit to be desired–many of the players are in broad brimmed hats and their eyes end up heavily shaded and nearly invisible.

The Lamplighters have been around the Bay Area for 58 years now, keeping Gilbert and Sullivan alive for a couple of generations of aficionados; our friend Helen Studabaker was a lead soprano for them in her youth.  This production will be in Walnut Creek tonight and tomorrow, and around the Bay for next 3 or 4 weeks.  Go see it and have fun.

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