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A Classic Television Adaptation
on February 15, 2013
This is the best adaptation of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera for television that I have ever seen. Its only fault is the number of cuts, given the fact that all had to be given in 75 minutes of broadcast time. Also, of course, the original color (which I understand was impressive for its day) is now gone since only a black and white kinescope version exists. But the picture quality is more than adequate, the sound is fine, and the performances are excellent. These performers were real stars in their day, and one can see why. The production is a faithful one (given the need for cuts, which are judiciously rendered) and the performers are uniformly excellent. Upon repeated viewings, this version keeps getting better and better.
I saw this production live on television as a child, way back in 1957, and I can appreciate it more now than I did then. I have been a G&S buff for many years, and a fairly fussy one in terms of disliking tampering with the original book and music, but I found this production a memorable one that I feel many people can enjoy. This was the favorite work of Gilbert and Sullivan themselves, and the quality of the book and score shines through here. Alfred Drake is a superb Jack Point who can convey wistful sadness when needed without going over the top the way some performers of the role do. Barbara Cook had yet to achieve real fame as Marian the Librarian on Broadway in THE MUSIC MAN, and here she shows her acting ability and wonderful vocal skill. Celeste Holm plays Phoebe a bit like Ado Annie in OKLAHOMA (she created the part in that musical fourteen years earlier), and while some people seem to think she's a bit too Broadway here in style, I think she is magnificent in the part, giving Phoebe the kind of spunk and charm that the role deserves and doesn't always get. Other roles are also well handled. The only real innovation here (other than the unavoidable cuts, which are skillfully done so that the main beauty and coherence of the show remain) is an introduction about the Tower of London given by the actor playing the Lieutenant, as well as the use of Jack Point as an occasional commentator on the context and progression of the action. I find these not at all offensive as additions, and I can see they might well have helped a TV audience get its bearings. These additional bits of dialogue are fortunately brief, to the point, and well written in a style that is literary and does not clash with Gilbertian quality.
One final point: the magnificent overture is pretty much gone, but returns in truncated form at the end of the show in credits, and some of Sullivan's missing music is used as background under the dialogue. And the orchestration sounds basically like Sullivan's throughout, masterfully conducted by Franz Allers, a pro of the theater who was very knowledgeable about operetta/musical comedy style and delivery.
THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD has not been treated well in TV presentations. Now we have an enjoyable one returned to us to treasure.