Review: “Camelot” at Westport Country Playhouse

Review: “Camelot” at Westport Country Playhouse

Tara Kennedy

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critic's Circle

Ok, I’ll admit it. I walked into “Camelot” with a huge bias. I assumed it would be one of those dated, tired musicals that are not worth reviving: let sleeping old dogs lie, I say. Generally, I am not a fan of the Old School Musical with its sexist themes that are not relatable to a 21st century gal like myself. Let me put it this way: Julie Jordan pisses me off.   

But I was oh-so very wrong about “Camelot.” There is something about this medieval musical that transcends the decades and makes it relevant and reveling. And this production delivers big entertainment with a talented small cast: director Mark Lamos manages the show succinctly by having a cast of eight performers who all work together to create a seamless, enjoyable evening of musical theater.  

For those unfamiliar with “Camelot,” the musical is based on the book “The Once and Future King” by Terence Hanbury White. The book is super long, so Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe smartly chose to focus only on part of the legend: the marriage and relationship of King Arthur (Robert Sean Leonard) to Lady Guenevere (Britney Coleman), Arthur’s formation of the Knights of the Round Table, which included the famous French knight, Lancelot (Stephen Mark Lukas), and the love triangle between the three.  Throw in Arthur’s evil illegitimate son, Mordred (Patrick Andrews), and a cast of lively knights with great delivery and energy and you have two hours of earnest musical theater fun.  

I adored Coleman’s Lady/Queen Guenevere: she was effervescent, joyous, warm, and nobody’s damsel-in-distress. She made me smile whenever she was on stage. Her singing was both beautiful and moving (“I Loved You Once in Silence”) and uplifting and fun (“Lusty Month of May”).

Leonard’s King Arthur was regal enough and I enjoyed his performance, but there was something wanting. Musical theater is a genre of performance that requires an unleashing of one’s self that I think Leonard may not have felt entirely at ease with; most of his stage credits are for drama.  His most relaxed moments were when he was playing opposite Coleman. She definitely brought out the best in Leonard’s King, especially during the playful, “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

Lukas’ Lancelot was the ideal specimen as the almost-too-perfect French knight with a gorgeous, soaring voice in “C’est Moi” and other musical numbers. However, I didn’t agree with his choice to speak with a French accent yet sing without one. Andrews’ Mordred was delightfully wicked and dynamic. 

Connor Gallagher’s fresh, lively choreography had a modern dance feel to it, especially evident in “Lusty Month of May.” Guenevere’s Isadora Duncanesque dress in the number sealed the deal.  Michael Yeargan demonstrates clear, clean set design with a minimalist, representative set. I loved the gliding archways. 

It may be that Lamos breathed new life into this old war horse, and if that is the case, kudos to him. Having never seen a production of “Camelot” before, it felt fresh and swiftly paced to me, despite the material being about medieval times written in the late 1950s. Maybe David Lee (Book Adapter) modernized it a bit. Maybe it was the performers were able to give the characters a more modern feel. Or maybe it was due to the show’s overall themes that seem pertinent in these tumultuous times: optimism to improve instead of destroy; hope for reason over emotion. Ultimately, humans will be humans, complex as we are, showing that we cannot be one without the other. But we learn that the story of Camelot can live on in the hearts of the next generation who maybe can realize Arthur’s dream kingdom. 

Robert Sean Leonard as Arthur and Patrick Andrews as Mordred in "Camelot" at Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 5. (Carol Rosegg)

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