Yeoman of the Guard
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1957 telecast has a cast led by Celeste Holm, Alfred Drake, Barbara Cook, Bill Hayes, & Henry Calvin. At the time of its airing, The New York Times praised the opulent production, which was a joy to see and hear. Contributing to the success of the telecast was the "masterful" direction by George Schaefer and Franz Allers' rich musical direction. Live telecast, April 10, 1957. 79 min.
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I agree with those reviewers who do actually seem to be referring to this version by the Madison Savoyards: it's very uneven (to be charitable). Some of the singing is excellent, some pretty awful, the sound is sometimes weak, the staging limited and the acting sometimes wooden. But (and this is a big but) it is a complete presentation; in fact, it even has two numbers that were dropped by Gilbert and Sullivan and which have been restored (and orchestrated) for this performance. For that alone it deserves some credit (compared, for example, to the truncated PBS version).
I grew up in a small town in Wales that prided itself on its annual amateur productions of operettas (with the fishmonger always singing the lead tenor part!). This feels very much in the same tradition: you take the rough with the smooth, have a good evening out, but don't expect the glitz of a professional production. (And if you want to catch all the words, take a copy of the libretto with you.) It's the darkest and one of the more difficult works in the G&S repertoire, and I think the company deserves credit for tackling it. I certainly don't regret my purchase.
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.
This was either the second or the third time I ever saw G&S in any kind of performance -- I was twelve -- and moments of it remained amazingly clear in my memory for more than half a century. Having checked often through the years, I felt pure delight when it finally became available for home viewing, and I was not disappointed on seeing it again at last. Now, I recognize that Alfred Drake as Jack Point was a piece of unexpected casting; but I still love his interpretation. The Dame Carruthers and Wilfred Shadbolt come close to stealing the show. Having spent my lifetime as a G&S buff, I still feel this version works very well, and contains one new line that would be worth including in other productions. Highly recommended.
I wish there were better choices for Yeoman!