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The Independent

August 14, 2018

Review: You'll Love "Yeomen"

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Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2017 12:00 am

“Yeomen of the Guard” – who or what are they? They are the retired pensioners of England’s armed forces, awarded the honor of guarding the ancient Tower of London.

Wearing their signature red and gold uniforms from a bygone age, sporting white lace collars and hats crowned with red and white Tudor roses, they are a popular target for tourist photos, especially when posed with their long menacing pike-staffs. But despite their warlike appearance, they are not expected to perform real military duties. Like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, they are part of the historic ritual surrounding British royal tradition.

Challenged by Queen Victoria herself to compose an operetta that was seriously “British," the very popular duo of Gilbert and Sullivan set their next work in the Tower, that grim old fortress built by William the Conqueror. Its somber history included the two tragically murdered little princes plus a long list of political prisoners such as Queen Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, condemned to be executed on Tower Green.

What a problem for a pair already famous for merry musical comedies like “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “Pirates of Penzance.” Miraculously, they pulled off an improbable hit show, combining their trademark wit and humor with the serious pathos that has made this work so appealing. Lucky Livermore theater-goers will be able to enjoy their creation when San Francisco’s famous Lamplighters Music Theatre bring the production to the Bankhead Theater.

Audiences will enjoy a sparkling performance by world-class singers, a full professional orchestra, and a troupe voted the BEST G & S COMPANY IN THE WORLD by the British themselves. This long-time fan is already familiar with their fabulous show and can guarantee a tuneful and thrilling experience for devotees and newcomers alike.

Company favorites and impressive new talents combine to bring a memorable story to life: a wrongly-imprisoned nobleman bravely facing an unjust execution, the heroic commoners who concoct a dangerous scheme to save him, the travelling jester whose poor bride-to-be agrees to marry the condemned man for a purse of gold, a not-too-bright jailer anxious to give up torturing and become a merry jester, and a frustrated spinster conniving to win a reluctant bachelor as her husband.

The plot is as twisted as Game of Thrones, alternating suspense and hilarity in unexpected turns. The outcome for each character is doubtful right up to the surprise ending. A magnificent musical score echoes both the impressive majesty of the Tower and the playful wit that has made G and S so deservedly popular.

Borrowing an idea from Shakespeare, “Yeoman” shows that the jester, a “fool," speaks the truths that others may not utter. In a favorite line, he observes, “When offered to the world in merry guise, unpleasant truths are swallowed with a will. So he who’d make his fellow creatures wise should always GILD the philosophic pill.”

This sounds like fun until the jester sadly adds that a funny man must tread carefully with his humor because: “If the master is surly from getting up early and tempers are short in the morning, an inopportune joke is enough to provoke him to give you at once a month’s warning.”

Like most G and S musicals, this is a show for the whole family, so there will be a Sunday matinee (2 pm August 27) as well as a Saturday evening performance (8 pm August 26) at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street. For reservations call 925-373-6800 or go to www.bankheadtheater.org. This faithful fan will be there to enjoy it again!

I may be seeing a completely different show, as the performances are double cast out of the company’s abundant roster. Some regulars will recognize Charles Martin (the fabulous Pirate King), Lawrence Ewing (the memorable Lord High Admiral of “Pinafore”), and the adorable “little maids” from “The Mikado”, along with popular tenors Samuel Faustine and Patrick Hagen. Other familiar company standouts are Jonathan Spencer and Robbie Stafford as confirmed old bachelor Sergeant Meryll, with crafty comediennes Sonia Gariaeff and Deborah Rosengaus as the desperate spinsters pursuing him in marriage.

Witty company veteran Jane Hammett has directed the production with her usual deft touch, and beloved conductor Baker Peeples will lead the orchestra for a memorable performance. It’s a sure cure for end-of-the-summer blues!

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