- Connecticut Critic
Based on T.H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King, Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot is an old-fashioned musical that centers on a tragic love story, with lots of comedy and magic thrown in. As ‘reimagined’ by director Mark Lamos, Westport Country Playhouse’s pared down version remains heavy on the tragic romance, with a little comedy thrown in, and is still as old-fashioned as ever. While this may play well with an older, more nostalgic audience, I feel that if you are looking for something more than light entertainment, this production might be less than satisfying.
The disappointment is not in any way due to the actors who all deliver top-notch performances. Tony Award winner Robert Sean Leonard shines as King Arthur. He sings well, with a talking/singing style reminiscent of Richard Burton or even Richard Harris, but it is his charm that truly won me over. Despite his many accomplishments on stage and on the screen, Mr. Leonard still has enough boyish charm to embody the version of King Arthur that I love most…the unsure, young Wart from Disney’s Sword and the Stone. It is fun to watch him trying to remember the words of his magical advisor Merlin, and to puzzle through the quandary regarding might and right. His King Arthur is earnest, ideological, and delightful.
Brittany Coleman also shines as Guenevere. She has an effervescent quality, a lovely voice and infectious smile, and really stands out with her sassy frolic, thanks to choreographer Connor Gallagher, during song, “The Lusty Month of May.” Therein, lays my dislike of the character. Guenevere starts out as a princess and then a flirtatious queen of the old guard – a “waiting in an ivory tower for knights to spill blood over her” kind of girl. Her flirty, shallow air is what Arthur fails to recognize. He is immediately smitten, not realizing that his love for Guenevere will be his undoing.
The third player in this tragic triangle is Sir Lancelot, played by Stephen Mark Lukas. Mr. Lukas has a strong voice and delivers his songs with conviction. His first song is “C’est moi,” Lancelot’s egotistical homage to himself, played here more for laughs than anything else. The problem with this approach however, is that at points it becomes too cartoony, bringing up the image of the character Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. He comes across as puffed up and self-centered, with this overblown idea of his own manly superiority that elicits such eye-rolls and antipathy that I wondered how Guenevere could fall for him in the first place. Arthur has his own inexplicable bromance going with Lancelot as well, maybe because he is the greatest knight that ever lived (or so Merlin told him) but personally, I find his excessive perfection tedious.
To complicate matters even further, we are introduced to a sinister interloper, Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred, played by my favorite performer of the evening, Patrick Andrews. Mr. Andrews is the show’s sexy bad boy. With his great voice and killer dance style, he owns the stage in his scenes, fulling embodying the dark cloud that befalls Camelot when Lancelot’s halo begins to slip. Also in the cast are Michael De Souza, Mike Evariste, Brian Owen, and John-Michael Reese, portraying revelers and various knights in King Arthurs’ court. Newcomer Sana Sarr rounds out the cast as Tom, the young child who carries on Arthur’s hopeful legacy through stories and play.
With so many talented players on the stage, it is a shame that I was underwhelmed by the show. The sets by Michael Yeargan were a bit too streamlined for me. There were some beautiful backdrops, but no levels on the stage. It was almost too minimalist, lacking the grandeur that Camelot deserves.
Costumes by Wade Laboissonniere were also hit or miss for me. Some of Guenevere’s gowns were simple and some grand, while some of the knights’ tunics and accouterments were overly colorful, reminding me more of Spamalot. I loved the costume for Mordred, who was just a little guyliner away from being a glam rock star with glittered tunic and scarf. The look belied the era of the musical; I was disappointed when he sang “Seven Deadly Virtues” with its lilting orchestral music. The contrast between what I was seeing compared to what I was hearing was jarring.
There were other slip ups that pulled me out of the Camelot experience. When Robert Sean Leonard knelt beside the body of the knight that Lancelot slayed in the tournament, I giggled, thinking of course he could determine if the knight was dead or not, after all he’s a doctor! I don’t think I was the only person in the audience to make that House reference. I also thought that when Lancelot performed the miracle of bringing the knight back to life, that it was a bit too fast, bringing the “Not Dead Yet” song from Spamalot to mind.
All this is minor given the real reason I was disappointed in Camelot. With all the press about it being ‘reimagined,’ there is only so much one can do about this dusty old relic to make it relevant to today’s audiences. The Lancelot and Guinevere characters are so one dimensional that despite the beautiful orchestrations by musical director Wayne Barker, the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You” is more apt to evoke an impatient eye roll than a tear. In a day and age where even Disney princesses are more adventurous and willing to fight the good fight, it is uncomfortable to hear a woman singing about men going to war for her favor. It is equally uncomfortable to hear knights singing of the good old days when they could molest virgins and fully enjoy the ‘spoils of war,’ as they did in the song, “Fie On Goodness.” I was not amused.
At the close of the show, I could not help but think that Camelot is the kind of show that people my parents’ age would love, but my children would hate. The shame is that this unchallenging old standby is not the kind of show that generates excitement in musical theatre.
- Photo: Britney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas. Carol Rosegg