The Pittsburgh Savoyards are now in their 81st season. Take a moment to consider that.
When they started FDR was president! They’ve managed to survive talkies, radio, TV, cable, the Internet and streaming services. Outside of college groups, it’s the longest running theater company in Pittsburgh, rendered more startling when you realize The Savoyards solely stage the light operas of Victorian super duo Gilbert and Sullivan … who only wrote 14 shows.
Yeoman of the Guard continues through October 21. Andrew Carnegie Music Hall, Carnegie. 412-734-8476. www.pittsburghsavoyards.org
It’s perhaps even more startling – if only to me – that I’ve been sitting in various chairs in various performances venues reviewing their productions for the last 30 of those 81 years. Together we’ve been through the Y2K madness, Jon Stewart joining The Daily Show, Pogs, The Blair Witch Project, Emo hair-dos, Survivor, Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Airlines, his three wives and all of his bankruptcies.
Way back at the beginning I wasn’t much of a Gilbert & Sullivan fan. I found the frilliness and folderol silly and the experience rather antiquated.
But over the years, with maybe a nod to Stockholm Syndrome, repeated Savoyards viewings have led to me … well, perhaps “enjoy” is too strong a word, but appreciate G&S more than I used to. There’s even one of those 14 shows I like so much I bought a cast recording: Yeoman of the Guard. So it’s fitting that this past week found me on my birthday (thanks so much for all the fabulous gifts … bitches) watching the Savoyards production of Yeoman of the Guard.
It turns out one of the reasons I like Yeoman is because it is the least “Gilbert & Sullivan” of Gilbert & Sullivan shows. It’s a decidedly darker story without all the switched-identity nonsense which is usually passed off as plot.
Instead, it’s set outside the Tower of London where a solider, the dashing Col. Fairfax, is about to be executed. There’s stuff about a strolling jester and his girlfriend as well as a Guard’s daughter and a jailer. Though it ends happily, it’s a more somber, almost ambivalent, “happiness.”
The show contains most of my favorite Arthur Sullivan music, including what I consider to be his finest song “Is Life a Boon?” here sung ravishingly by Paul Yeater as Fairfax. Yeater joins with Mia Bonnewell, Rachel Silverstein and Michael Greenstein for my second favorite G&S ditty “Strange Adventure.”
This production is notable, in fact, for the work of several very strong singers, especially Sarah Marie Nadler as the heroine and the singing and comedy stylings of Andy Hickly as Jack, Corey Nile Wingard’s Shadbolt and Christine McGrath playing Phoebe.
And once again I’m staggered by the tremendous work provided by music director Guy Russo and his orchestra. A very live, very full orchestra for what is in essence a community theater production. That always stuns me.
Sally Denmead directs and the results is a credible, solid production with pace and purpose. The opening dumb show I could live without but Denmead is a dab hand managing the talents at her disposal. Hats off to the detailed set design (Robert Hockenberry) and the considerable attention Ellen Rosen has paid to the costuming. (Although someone needs to burn Fairfax’s wig – it makes him look like Debbie Reynolds.)
A couple of caveats: The Savoyards have double cast this production so some of the performers you see may not be the same ones I did. Also, I took along a few G&S virgins with me – some because they wanted to see a G&S show and others just because they needed to get out of the house. All appreciated the effort with some enjoying some of it more than others. I reminded them, as I’m reminding you, that Yeoman of the Guard is not your typical G&S outing – that would be fluffy confections like Pirate of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado.
If that’s more to your taste, just wait, they’ll be up soon.
Ted Hoover is the Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org