Yeomen of the Guard

A-VAI-YeomenAn Early Telecast of “Yeomen of the Guard” is Preserved on DVD

One of the better releases in the VAI DVD series of vintage television productions of musicals is Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Yeomen of the Guard.” It is the team’s work that is closest to opera, it does not involve topsy-turvy situations, and the characters are fairly believable.

Part of the Max Liebman Presents series, this 1957 “Yeomen” was allowed 80 minutes of running time, the rest dedicated to commercials and station breaks, and therefore is by no means complete.  (The missing commercials can be seen as an extra.) But it does keep quite a bit of the dialogue and score (a full performance would run a bit over two hours) and serves as a good introduction to the complete work.

A caveat at this point. The original telecast was in color; only a black and white copy was found. Also, the picture is a bit more wobbly than are other VAI discs in this series. But there is no other (as far as I can tell) decent video of “Yeomen” available to us, so this one is a valuable addition to the history of television and to G&S productions. (The one from BBC is simply bad.)

A synopsis of the plot would take up too much space here; but I want to comment that the so-called Happy Ending is quite different from those in the other G&S plays: two characters wind up engaged to the very people they hate and the main comic character (like Bunthorne in “Patience”) gets what he deserves.

Alfred Drake makes a very good if not overly subtle Jack Point the jester, while popular singer Bill Hayes looks and sounds good as the not very admirable Colonel Fairfax. Barbara Cook has an operatic voice that suits her role as Elsie, but Celeste Holm in her opening song sounds too Broadway-ish for the young Phoebe; but she can hold her own with Cook from that point on.

The show begins with some background information about the Tower of London, which might interest the audience. But a second introduction by Jack Point is utterly superfluous and the time could have been better spent with a stanza from at least one song that had been removed.

Other operettas in this VAI series are Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta” and “The Dessert Song.” “The Chocolate Solider” stars Rise Stevens (a big plus) but does not follow the original in Acts II and III (a bad minus).

Bloomer Girl

A Shortened “Bloomer Girl” is Restored from 1956 TVA-VAI-Bloomer Girl

   A most interesting addition to the series of vintage televised musicals on VAI DVDs is “Bloomer Girl.” With a score by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg (the team that gave us “The Wizard of Oz” score in 1939), this 1944 tale of Dolly Bloomer and her Bloomer Girls’ fight for women’s rights had a respectable run of 654 performances and shared its plot and theme with the rights of slaves (in the 1861 setting of the play) and of all humans in general.

The choreography of Agnes de Mille, especially her Civil War Ballet, added much to the show. And not only is de Mille the choreographer for the 1956 “Alcoa Hour,” but many of her original dancers were recalled to action. The first dance is a bit too 1944-de Mille-cute; but that is the point of reviving old shows in the spirit of their originals.

Of course, the 90-minute format allows only 76 minutes for “Bloomer Girl,” but what remains is top notch.

The lovers Jeff and Evelina are sung by Keith Anders and Barbara Cook (who was still going strong, as a New York Times featured article of 10-23-12 proclaims). Carmen Mathews plays Dolly Bloomer and Paul Ford is…well, Paul Ford as the blustering father of the Applegate Girls. Rawn Spearman as the slave Pompey has a pleasing voice and David Aiken as the auctioneer has a powerful one.

The studio set is large enough to give a convincing main part of a small Northern town called Cicero Falls, while the chorus work is quite good. This abridged edition of “Bloomer Girl” belongs in any collection next to the VAI DVDs of “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Dearest Enemy,” “A Connecticut Yankee,” “The Chocolate Solider,” “The Yeomen of the Guard,” “Naughty Marietta,” and “The Mikado” (with Groucho Marx in the lead.)

As is the case with the other sets, “Bloomer Girl” was originally telecast in color, but only the black-and-white kinescope remains.

Thank you again, VAI for this  treat!