THEATRE REVIEW: Yeomen of the Guard
Theatre Western triumphs at Talbot
By Alex Pietrzak
Yeomen of the Guard
Starring: Heather Brandon, Jacqueline Nelson, Jonathan Tan, Chris Wood
Written by: William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
The operetta begins with the audience learning that a young soldier named Fairfax has been unjustly condemned to die. To prevent the imminent execution, Sergeant Meryll and his infatuated daughter Phoebe hatch a plot to free Fairfax and disguise him as Meryll's recently returned son Leonard.
Meanwhile, a hastily performed marriage of convenience paves the way for the love-triangle between the disguised Fairfax, a strolling singer named Elsie and her jester companion, Jack Point. Of course, this is really just the beginning, and watching the many subplots unfold is half the fun.
The play starts off in fine form with Heather Brandon sparkling in the role of the lustful Phoebe. Unfortunately, her strong opening makes some of the slightly unsteady songs that follow suffer in comparison. All the more satisfying, then, is Brandon's return for a musical trio with Luke Yourkevich (who gives a stand-out performance as Sgt. Meryll) and Mark Gough (as Leonard). The wonderful blending of the three rich voices, combined with the naturalness of their interaction, makes it one of the most memorable moments of the production.
Such chemistry simply fails to develop between the romantic leads, Fairfax (Chris Wood) and Elsie (Jacqueline Nelson). After some promising comic moments in the first act, Wood just doesn't seem comfortable in the second act. For her part, the talented Nelson often doesn't have enough volume and the audience is rarely able to make out her lyrics. Since much of Yeomen's pacing relies on the songs to advance the plot, this can be a frustrating drawback.
The emotional heart of the play is really carried by Jonathan Tan, in the role of Jack Point. Despite a few nervous wrinkles, Tan manages the transformation of Point from manic jester to broken-hearted fool with wonderful grace. Especially poignant is the rejected Point's misery at the surprisingly downbeat ending of the operetta. In this, Tan is beautifully complemented by the chorus, who more than make up for some ragged moments earlier in the production.
Throughout it all, the orchestra, led by Rod Culhan (who also provides one of the most refreshing dialogues of the evening), does an admirable job of keeping some of the less-confident vocalists on track. The cast is also aided by some splendid costumes and a relatively simple set that doesn't distract from the actions of the play, though the brick archways do have an alarming tendency to sway when brushed by cast members.
Despite some unevenness, the LMT/Theatre Western production of Yeomen of the Guard is a wonderful showcase of both veteran and up-and-coming talent. The operetta's change of pace, from the more serious fare offered in other Gilbert and Sullivan productions, makes Yeomen a worthwhile evening of light-hearted entertainment.
Yeomen of the Guard continues its run at Talbot Theatre until Jan. 25. Tickets are available through the Grand Theatre Box Office at 672-8800.
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