This event was scheduled June 15-16, 2024.

Last weekend, Central Coast Gilbert & Sullivan presented its annual Savoy opera. For its 11th anniversary the company brought us The Yeomen of the Guard, subtitled “The Merryman and His Maid,” at the Harold J. Miossi Cultural and Performing Arts Center at Cuesta College.

Savoy operas are British comedic operettas performed in English. They were popularized in 19th century England. Gilbert and Sullivan (the librettist and composer, respectively) wrote 14 of these operettas filled with mischief, humor, and satire. Yeomen is set in the 16th century and it takes place at the dreaded prison, the Tower of London.

Under the direction of Marcy Irving, artistic director and co-founder of the company, and Jennifer Martin, conductor for the entire 11 years of its existence, the large cast of more than two dozen singers accompanied by 20 orchestral musicians gave a hearty, joyful performance.

When the orchestra members began to warm up their different instruments (this writer’s favorite moment of any trip to the theatre), people quickly found their seats.

The huge red velvet curtains of the theatre open, a sudden contrast to the drab, cool grey stone of a courtyard outside the stone walls of the Tower of London as designed by Dawson Bondie. A hazed, foggy sky hangs heavy over the square.

On the left of the stage we see a lovely young maid, Phoebe Meryll (played passionately by Ava Portz), spinning yarn on her wheel. She sings sweetly of her love for a prisoner: the handsome and charming Col. Fairfax (played by Paul Osbourne). He awaits execution in the tower, wrongly accused. Unbeknownst to the colonel, Phoebe’s father, the stalwart Sgt. Meryll (played by Tim Cleath), has devised a plan to save Fairfax by breaking him out of prison and disguising him as his own returning son, Leonard Meryll (played by Thomas Villa).

A traveling entertainment duo, Jack the jester and the songstress Elsie, arrive in town playing for tips. Jack (played hilariously by Hunter Boaz) nearly gets the two mobbed by angry townsfolk with his “humor.” The Lieutenant of the Tower sees the travelers and shares Fairfax’s secret with the duo—Fairfax needs a bride and fast to prevent a hated relative from claiming an inheritance. So the Lieutenant offers the duo a large dowry if the gorgeous Elsie (played authentically by Kristina Horacek Prozesky) will marry Fairfax before he is beheaded later that day. Eventually the pair agree and a deal is struck.

Meanwhile, sweet Phoebe has distracted the comical prison guard (played by Paul Burkle) by wooing him until she can steal the keys to her beloved’s cell. Unbeknownst to Phoebe, Fairfax has already married Elsie by the time he is rescued, just moments before his execution. As the crowds press and gather to witness the final moments of Fairfax’s life, the guards return yelling, “The prisoner has escaped!” Blackout.

And that’s just Act One!

Since these Savoy operas are classical theatrical comedies, all the couples find a mate, and the story ends happily in marriage for everyone—except the jester Jack. He cries: “Misery me! All for the love of a lady!” before he collapses on stage.

The score is beautiful, perhaps one of Sullivan’s best, and the members of the orchestra were pros all the way. The costumes, skillfully devised by Karen Russu, were spot-on. And the actors, under Irving’s keen direction, provided both hilarious and memorable performances.

Central Coast Gilbert & Sullivan does only one production a year. If you missed this one, make sure you don’t miss out on next year’s: The Pirates of Penzance.

:: Sonya Jackson