Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Yeomen of the Guard" casts a darker shadow for light comic opera


UMGASS's Yeoman of the Guard

Photo courtesy of UMGASS.

Comic operas usually live up their genre name: lively songs, light humor, and endings filled with satisfied characters.

For the most part, Gilbert and Sullivan's twist on the style, Savoy operas, are no exception. But their The Yeomen of the Guard mixes playful puns and broken hearts, making for an emotionally complicated environment that is a distinct change from standard comic-opera fare.

The play debuted in London on Oct. 3, 1888, at the 1,200-seat Savoy Theatre, which was built to showcase Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas. The University of Michigan Gilbert & Sullivan Society (UMGASS) is staging its take on The Yeomen of the Guard at the 600-seat Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, December 5-8, which will give attendees a more intimate look at a play Sullivan described in his diary as, "Pretty story, no topsy turvydom, very human, & funny also."

Set during Shakespearean times in the Tower of London, The Yeomen of the Guard features Colonel Fairfax -- convicted of sorcery and awaiting his execution -- attempting to keeps his estate out of the sweaty palms of his sneaky cousin, who is also his accuser. He does so by trying to secretly marry a singer, Elsie Maynard, who has her eye on Fairfax's demise so she can take over his wealth and marry her true love. But nothing goes as planned, Fairfax escapes, and chaos ensues.

Sullivan's musical score is considered one of his finest, and despite the play's occassionally serious tone, Gilbert's lyrics and dialog crackle with wit, as always. See for yourself this weekend.

UMGASS presents "The Yeomen of the Guard" at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, December 5-8. Visit for tickets, showtimes, and more info.