The 1957 Hallmark Hall of Fame Yeomen

Cast
Sir Richard CholmondelyRobert Wright
Colonel FairfaxBill Hayes
Sergeant MeryllNorman Atkins
Leonard MeryllNorman Barrs
Jack PointAlfred Drake
Wilfred ShadboltHenry Calvin
Elsie MaynardBarbara Cook
Phoebe MeryllCeleste Holm
Dame CarruthersMuriel O'Malley
KateMarjorie Gordon

Producer and Director: George Schaefer
Musical Director: Franz Allers
Adapted: William Nichols
Screenplay: Noel Caplan
Choreography: Paul Godkin

A made for TV adaptation for
The Hallmark Hall of Fame

The Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored a regular TV series of adaptations of operas and books, concerts and original works from the late 1940's through the 1970's. The series still goes on, with the occasional original film special, though with decreasing frequency over the years.

In 1957, the Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored a production of The Yeomen of the Guard, which appeared in an 80-minute abridgement on NBC. The production has not been issued on video, although the UCLA video archive is at least one place where it can be found.

Marc Kenig's review below is of the original production, which is not available on home video but survives in some video libraries. The CD re-issue is discussed further below.

Review by Marc Kenig

Previously only a G&S legend, it's news to me that a kinescope of this production survived. The video I've seen is grainy and lacking contrast, but the sound is surprisingly decent.

This presentation had one heck of a Broadway pedigree. Celeste Holm (Phoebe) and Alfred Drake (Point) starred in the original run of Oklahoma as Ado Annie Carnes and Curly, respectively. Drake also won the 1954 Tony award for leading actor in Kismet (Haji the poet) and was on Broadway in Gigi (1973), Babes in Arms, Kean (1961), and many others.

Franz Allers, the conductor, was the musical director for Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady and Camelot on Broadway. Barbara Cook (Elsie) was in the original casts of Candide, She Loves Me, The Music Man, etc, etc., and she played Anna in the 1960 revival of The King and I. Henry Calvin (Wilfred) was also in Kismet and in the TV adventure series Zorro (Sgt. Garcia) from 1957-59. Muriel O'Malley (Carruthers) starred in the original production of Allegro (Grandmother) in 1947.

Hallmark's adaptation is very impressive, especially given the limitations of the TV technology of the time. It seems to have been done live on a large soundstage, with a two or three camera shoot. The TV direction is excellent, with very good camera handling and no awkward cuts. The interesting multi-level set allows for both external Tower Green scenes and scenes shot inside (cross-section of) the Meryll house and Cholmondeley's office. There is good choreography, and the show seems very well rehearsed.

The music is probably live, with a full orchestra, and an offstage chorus. Onstage townspeople and yeomen don't seem to be singing or even lip synching.

The production, running 80 minutes, is abridged (see list of cuts, below). The tale is narrated by Jack Point in a series of very well-written monologues. Generally, characters deliver abridged dialogue, some over introductions to numbers, probably to save time. (At a couple of points, the orchestra pauses to wait for the actor to finish the dialog before beginning the verse). The dialog is abridged, but far more complete than that on the Neville Mariner/Academy of St. Martin's recording.

That the Act II finale was abridged and changed for TV is my biggest complaint. Elsie's verse of "I have a song to sing" is cut, and the show ends on a fade-out of a dejected (alive and conscious, yes) Point clutching his folly stick.

The music, ignoring cuts, is played and sung straight in bel canto style. Diction is excellent. There are two notable musical letdowns: Celeste Holm's Broadway-style Phoebe with shaky pitches, and the chorus which is sung, always mixed, in a Broadway/Norman Luboff style. Almost all of the Yeomen's chorus music is cut, and even though "Yeomen" is the title role, they have almost no presence in this production as a result.

Dialog is changed to expose plot points, but it is skillfully written on the whole. The video opens with a very brief history of the Tower narrated by an unidentified actor in a Yeoman costume against an illustration of the Tower. This opens up to the main stage, with a narration by Jack Point. All of this is done voice-over an abridged rendition of the overture. Dialog is sometimes interpolated by other characters to help explain the plot, and in a couple of cases, plot holes! For example, Lt. Chomondeley gets the added line, "So that thou may not be haunted by the memory of the poor gentleman, I will cover both your faces...' and a cute interjection by Elise before running off after "Tis done I am a bride" (looking at the money pouch): "Mother!"

The pacing is very good, and no plot points or characters are omitted. In this reviewer's opinion, it is superior to the similar-in-concept 1960 Bell Telephone Hour Mikado. To be fair, Hallmark's adaptor (Caplan) had about 30 minutes more playing time than Martyn Green.

Individual performances are all fine. Alfred Drake's Point is outstanding--an excellent baritone, great diction, good line delivery. It is a very centered well-measured performance, played well to the cameras. Barbara Cook, very young (and slim!), sings and acts a fine Elise, even though her part is injudiciously cut. Henry Cavin is a very good Wilfred, and Robert Wright displays a fine bass as the Lieutenant.

The sole disappointment is Celeste Holm as Phoebe. Her broadway singing style, too perky acting style, and trouble with pitches and some words ("Lovely HEART would rest... would make my heart rebel"). Poor Leonard has all his music cut!

The cuts are as follows:

  • All of "In the autumn of our life" and the Yeomen in #2.
  • First verse of "When our gallant Norman foes"
  • "Here's a man of Jollity" and dialog up to "I have a song to sing, Oh!" (the latter is intact)
  • First verse of "Tis done, I am a bride"
  • Act I finale "Oh Seargeant Meryll" through Phoebe's entrance "Leonard!" (Plot explained in a voice over the introduction music by Meryll)
  • Chorus repeat of "As escort for the prisoner"
  • All of "Night has spread" chorus and solos, except for the introduction with voice over by Point to explain the plot
  • 2nd and 4th verses of "Oh! A private buffoon"
  • "Free from his fetters grim"
  • "Rapture, Rapture"
  • "Oh day of terror" chorus
  • Some of "Sir I obey"
  • Elsie's "I have a song to sing, Oh!" in the finale. Cut from chorus repeat of Point's verse to "Heigh-dy"

The CD Re-Issue

CD Cover

Sepia has issued on CD excerpts from Hansel and Gretel, Yeomen, and other musical highlights from the early history of television. As Dan Kravetz explains:

The Yeomen excerpts were recorded in a studio with piano some time before the actual broadcast and intended to reach the public ear in time to raise interest prior to air time. These, along with the songs from Alec Wilder's Hansel musical, are important releases for anyone who admires the phenomenal Barbara Cook, still concertizing in her 80's. Celeste Holm and Bill Hayes are also still with us, but haven't sung in public for decades, and it's always nice to hear more of the late Alred Drake's repertoire. And the novelty numbers that fill out the disc are priceless—I never get tired of Red Buttons' "Strange Things are Happening," an example of classic Catskills shtick, descended from synagogue call-and-response. So what's not to like? This is a must-buy!

Simon Moss contributed a more detailed review:

My copy of the new CD including five tracks for the 1957 Yeomen TV broadcast has lately arrived, and the quality is truly outstanding. The songs are well performed of course, as one would expect from a cast populated by such great names of musical theatre as Barbara Cook and Alfred Drake. Celeste Holm's "Were I Thy Bride" is a revelation and her songs really sparkle with character, but her Phoebe is maybe not one for the traditionalist. Barbara Cook's Klieg Light voice soars as Elsie, making me wish that she had recorded more G&S in her career. In the TV broadcast "Tis Done" was cut to a single verse, and it is a tragedy that this song was not chosen for the 45rpm disc.

The remastering is superb, with barely a hint of surface noise. The liner notes by Richard C. Norton are accurate for the most part, although he states that "a mere five songs survive" from a show which, as most know, actually survives in its entirety in bootleg sound and video recordings of variable quality. Few though will have had a chance to hear these rare pre-publicity tracks (originally issued on a rare 45rpm EP disc with piano accompaniment) with such clarity.

Sepia products are always produced to the highest standard. The packaging includes images of some of the original publicity for the '57 broadcast (some supplied following an appeal on Savoynet) and with a total of twenty nine tracks (there is never an inch of empty space on any Sepia disc) there is surely something to interest everyone. Even if you only want to listen to the five Yeomen songs the CD is well worth the 8 or 9 (shipping included) that it costs to have it delivered anywhere in the world if ordered direct from Sepia

The Yeomen tracks on the disc are as follows:

  1. When a Wooer Goes A-Wooing
  2. I Have a Song to Sing, O
  3. Oh! A Private Buffoon
  4. Were I Thy Bride
  5. Is Life a Boon?

More details are available at the Sepia website.

Issue History
DateLabelFormatNumberComments
2009 Sepia CD 1125 Highlights with piano accompaniment, along with Hansel and Gretel and other items