How Was the Show? reviews ‘Camelot’
John Olive, How Was the Show? 5/13/15
Camelot (at the Ordway, through May 17) harkens back to a simpler age, when a sturdy chap like Lancelot could be an arrogant, egotistical, sword-twirling, overweening and preening [your carefully chosen word here], and still get the girl. Nowadays a fellow must pay at least lip-service to sensitivity and depth, without which the Gueneveres of the world will reject him outright. As well they should.
Camelot‘s Act One is straight forward: young Guenevere runs away from her escort and meets Arthur, king, in the woods. They sing tunefully (the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe score is a marvel; more on this anon). G discovers who A really is and since she was slated to marry him in any event she does, and together they create the great Camelot, where the sun always shines and where there’s a legal limit to the snow. Where the rule of law prevails and where the tables are always round. Lancelot, Mordred (Arthur’s illegitimate son from a one night stand) and King Pellinore arrive and Arthur invites them to stay; after all, the castle is large.
In Act Two, Arthur goes on a partridge hunting trip and poop happens: Lancelot pitches some serious woo to Guenevere and, though she knows she shouldn’t, she agrees to run off with him. Mordred raises an army, somehow, and attacks. Guinevere is captured and sentenced to be burnt at ye olde stake. Thus does Arthur (back from the partridges) suffer a quandary: what to do. The next section is a touch unclear (to me), but I believe that Lancelot rescues the beauteous Guinevere, leaving Arthur alone, his kingdom sinking into violence and warfare. He sings a lovely reprise of “Camelot”: once a magic kingdom called Camelot existed. He knights and rescues from death young Tom of Warwick. Then off into the burning sunset he goes, to war.
Camelot is a pretty terrific show. For one thing, there are the Lerner and Lowe songs. Boffo-ness (boffosity?) certainly obtains here: the hummable “Camelot.” Lancelot’s paean to his insufferable ego, “C’est Moi.” “What Do The Simple Folk Do?”, sung by Guenevere and Arthur as Camelot deteriorates into bloodlust and ambition. “How To Handle A Woman.” Wonderful. If you enjoyed My Fair Lady (the Guthrie recently mounted a nice production) you’ll love Camelot. L&L are masters.
The performances are excellent as well. Tim Rogan‘s Lancelot thrills with his powerful masculinity. Arch and handsome, one can (almost) understand why Guenevere falls for him. As Guenevere, Mary McNulty, through the sheer force of her personality and charisma, gives the treacly Julie Andrews-esque character power and substance. Adam Grabou does Arthur. It’s a slightly thankless role (Arthur is a little, well, dull) but Grabou plays him with dignity, grandeur and affecting gravitas. Kasidy Devlin is terrifically hateful as Mordred. And, needless to say, all these artists sing beautifully. Also, I was very taken by the goofy (and non-singing) Mark Poppleton, as King Pellinore.
This Camelot is pared down and the music reorchestrated, much to the play’s benefit. There is muscularity on display, a much clearer story. It’s still a fairy tale, but now it has an edge, and power.
I’ll close with a final criticism: director Michael McFadden has staged this show too far upstage. There’s at least ten unused feet of downstage space. This gives the play energy sapping distance. Why has he done this? So he can use a scrim, anchored by the proscenium. It’s an egregious example of a play serving the requirements of a set, rather than vice versa.
McFadden’s work in Camelot is otherwise first rate and ditto that of the designers. It took me a while to fall in like with Kevin Depinet‘s weird set piece, but I did.