REVIEW: Yeomen of the Guard (Light Opera Works)

Delightful singers highlight of sensational ‘Yeomen’

 

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Light Opera Works presents
  
Yeomen of the Guard
 
Words by W.S. Gilbert, music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed and choreographed by
Rudy Hogenmiller
Music direction by
Roger L. Bingaman
Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston (map)
Through June 13 |
Tickets: $32–$98 (under 21, half-price) | more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Gorgeous voices, thrilling music, a terrific 29-piece orchestra and a poignant plot — Light Opera Works’ Yeomen of the Guard has it all.

YEOMEN PHOTO 4Perhaps the most moving of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, Yeomen takes place at the Tower of London, where the dashing Col. Fairfax is imprisoned, due to be beheaded on a trumped-up charge of sorcery. Phoebe Meryll has never met him but is as distraught over his fate as she is disdainful of the attentions of the lovesick jailer Wilbert Shadbolt. Her father, Sgt. Merryll, vows to save the colonel, who twice saved  his life, and with the help of Phoebe and her brother, Leonard, plots to secret Fairfax from the Tower by disguising him as Leonard, an arriving guardsman.

Meanwhile, Fairfax vows to thwart the greedy kinsmen whose false accusation landed him in jail and do him out of an inheritance by marrying before his death. His friend, the lieutenant of the Tower, agrees to find him a bride. When the strolling players Jack Point and Elsie Maynard appear, he tempts them with an offer of 100 crowns if Elsie will wed the doomed man. Jack and Elsie are sweethearts, but since the groom will be beheaded in an hour, they agree.

Then Fairfax escapes, leaving Jack and Elsie aghast that she is now the wife of a fugitive.

Though less whimsical than most of the G&S canon, Yeomen features plenty of wit and humor and one of Sullivan’s loveliest scores. Rudy Hogenmiller directs a strongly traditional interpretation with a cast of stupendous singers.

Company newcomer Sahara Glasener-Boles brings a divine soprano and a saucy demeanor to Phoebe, particularly delicious as she taunts Shadbolt in "Were I Thy Bride." Soprano Alicia Berneche gives us a plaint ive and lyrical Elsie.

Mezzo-soprano Yvonne Strumecki makes a majestic Dame Carruthers, the Tower housekeeper, a patriotic spinster with her eye on Sgt. Meryll.

 

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Alex Honzen creates a hilarious Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailer and assistant tormentor, sardonic and smitten with Phoebe. He mournfully pours out his situation, with a fine baritone, in "When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul," a song Gilbert and Sullivan cut from the original score but which has been restored in this production:

When jealous torments rack my soul,
My agonies I can’t control,
Oh, better sit on red hot coal
Than love a heartless jade.

Dennis Kelly as Sergeant Meryll, Colm Fitzmaurice as Col. Fairfax, Michael Reckling as Leonard and Robert Brady as the lieutenant are also strong.

George Andrew Wolff‘s interpretation of the disappointed Jack Point misses the target a bit. In the early scenes, he seems too stolid, and at the finish he goes overboard into exaggerated bawling. Still, he has a gorgeous voice, and turns out delightful renditions of "I Have A Song To Sing, O!" with Elsie, his solos "I’ve Jibe and Joke" and "Oh! A Private Buffoon is a Light-Hearted Loon," and "Hereupon We’re Both Agreed" with Shadbolt.

While the choreography and staging could be livelier, the brilliant vocals make this a don’t-miss production. If you’re a G&S fan, you’ll love it, and if you’re not, you should be.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  

 

Note: Free pre-show discussion at selected performances. Photos by Rich Foreman.

Principal Cast Members

Alicia Berneche (Elsie) appeared last winter at Light Opera Works as Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, and previously as Marian in The Music Man, Phyllis in Iolanthe, Sari Linden in Bitter Sweet and Resi in The Great Waltz. Berneche has performed extensively in the United States, appearing at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Daisy in The Great Gatsby, the Goodman Theatre, the Barbican, and Brooklyn Academy of Music in the world premiere of Philip Glass’ Galileo Galilei, and was on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera. During this past season she performed Le Nozze di Figaro and Hansel and Gretel with Piedmont Opera and Austin Lyric Opera, and The Marriage of Figaro with Skylight Opera. Upcoming appearances include Brigadoon with the Ashlawn Festival and H.M.S. Pinafore with Opera Carolina and Skylight Opera.

Colm Fitzmaurice (Colonel Fairfax) returns to Light Opera Works, where he has been seen in The Student Prince, H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, The Merry Widow and, most recently, Iolanthe. Fitzmaurice has sung many of the leading G&S roles in New York City and throughout the United States. He is regularly featured with New York’s Gilbert and Sullivan Players. This fall, Colm returns to Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera in H.M.S. Pinafore. At Skylight, he has also appeared as Valére in Tartuffe, Henry in The Midnight Angel and Nanki-Poo in The Mikado. He made his European debut as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte in Paris, and later toured Germany as Tony in West Side Story. He has been featured with Virginia Opera, Dayton Opera, and Kentucky Opera among others.

Sahara Glasener-Boles (Phoebe) is making her Light Opera Works debut. She graduated from Kent State University with a Master of Music degree in 2005, and performed with Cleveland Opera, Cleveland Opera on Tour, Lyric Opera Cleveland and as a member of the Young Artist Program at Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, New York. She spent the last eight summers performing with the Ohio Light Opera in Wooster, Ohio. She recently returned from Los Angeles, Calif., where she performed a one-woman operetta program for the Friends of Operetta Foundation. Now living in Chicago, Sahara performs with the Quest Theatre Ensemble, and will travel to Brazil in January with their production of Blue Nativity.

Alex Honzen (Wilfred Shadbolt) appeared with Light Opera Works as Pooh-Bah in The Mikado, Mountararat in Iolanthe, the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, Agamemnon in La Belle Hélène, the Second Gunman in Kiss Me, Kate, Herr Schlick in Bitter Sweet, Jud Fry in Oklahoma!, Du Fresne in Gigi and Karpathy in My Fair Lady. Other appearances include DuPage Opera Theatre (Scarpia in Tosca), the Dubuque Symphony (Brahms Requiem), Chamber Opera Chicago (Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice), da Corneto Opera (Fra Melitone in La Forza Del Destino), Bowen Park Opera (the Count in The Marriage of Figaro), American Opera Group (Escamillo in La Tragédie de Carmen) and the Narrator in Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat with Chicago Chamber Musicians.

Dennis Kelly (Sergeant Meryll) is making his Light Opera Works debut. He has appeared with many other Chicago area theaters including Provision Theater Company, Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Theatre at the Center and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He has played leading roles on Broadway in Into the Woods, Annie Get Your Gun And Damn Yankees. He has appeared off-Broadway in Suburb and Music in the Air, and toured nationally in Urinetown, Jekyll & Hyde and Damn Yankees. Regional theaters include Actors Theatre of Louisville, Goodspeed Opera House, Old Globe Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Pittsburgh Playhouse and San Diego Civic Light Opera. Television appearances include When I Grow Up, Law and Order, Darrow, The Dollmaker, Lady Blue, One Life to Live, The Guiding Light, Chicago Story and Late Night with Conan O’Brien (sketch artist). Kelly is a resident of Evanston and was graduated from Chapman University, Orange, Calif., where he was recently named Alumnus of the Year.

Yvonne Strumecki (Dame Carruthers) has been seen at Light Opera Works as Bloody Mary in South Pacific and Sister Berthe in The Sound of Music, as well as the ensemble of Candide (also understudying the Old Lady). She returns after a hiatus from the stage, during which she worked on her master’s degree in creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Other roles include Gertrude in Hansel and Gretel, the Witch and Jack’s Mother in Into the Woods, Witch #1 in Dido and Aeneas, Mother Superior in Nunsense, Yente in Fiddler on the Roof, and the voice of Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors.

George Andrew Wolff (Jack Point) has been seen at Light Opera Works as Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, as well as in Countess Maritza, Gypsy Love and, most recently, Side by Side by Sondheim, for which he received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination. He appeared as Quasimodo in the world premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Bailiwick Repertory), Corny Collins in Hairspray, Reuben in Joseph, and Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol (Marriott Theatre), Sagramore in Camelot with George Hearn (Ravinia Festival), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (original Chicago company), Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka (Chicago Shakespeare) and Gus in Cats (Theatre at the Center). Other credits include Treasure Island (Fulton Theater), The Light In The Piazza, The Producers, Sunset Boulevard and Aladdin (Marriott Theater), Susannah (Opera Columbus), Bon Appetit (Anchorage Opera, Opera Maine), and Albert Herring (Monteux Opera Festival).

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