Sunday, October 23, 2016

Review of "Camelot"

A scaled down musical can be a problematic endeavor.  Stripped of embellishments and large-scale production values a show, to be successful, needs to have a strong libretto, a first-rate score, and a creative and original concept.  One of the best examples was a pocket-sized production of Sweeney Todd on the small Goodspeed Opera House stage a number of years ago.  Now, with mostly disappointing results, comes a pared down version of the musical Camelot at the Westport Country Playhouse.

The main problem is the weak book by Alan Jay Lerner.  There is little dramatic tension between the four main characters of King Arthur (Robert Sean Leonard), Guenevere (Britney Coleman), Lancelot (Stephen Mark Lukas), and Mordred (Patrick Andrews).  The plot itself, primarily the love triangle between the king, his wife and leading knight, is uninspiring.  In a full-sized mounting of the show its innate grandeur and majesty masks these shortcomings.  But, laid bare, the failings of the book are more obvious.  Not even the adaptation of the original by David Lee, an award winning television writer and director, solves the drawbacks.
Britney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas in Lerner & Loewe’s “Camelot.” Photo by Carol Rosegg

The essence of the story is still the same, which, as stated, revolves around the love triangle between Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot as well as the insidious conspiracies of Mordred.  The presentation of the material, with little in scenery and props, is depicted by a masked group of revelers who, in turn, play various roles within the musical.  It comes across as a theatrical staging by a traveling band of actors for a king’s court or other confined setting.  It can, at times, be an entertaining concept, but overall fails in its realization to become an absorbing and captivating production.

The songs are by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the team behind Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, and My Fair Lady.  Camelot, which opened in 1960, would prove to be their last score for a Broadway musical.  While not their best it does include such notable numbers as “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?,” “Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” “Camelot,” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do.”  The songs are mostly forthright and uncomplicated odes to everyday life, but do include two enchanting, powerful ballads in “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “I Loved You in Silence.”
Britney Coleman, Sana Sarr, Robert Sean Leonard, Stephen Mark Lukas, Patrick Andrews, and Michael De Souza in Lerner & Loewe’s “Camelot.” Photo by Carol Rosegg

The cast, led by Robert Sean Leonard’s King Arthur, is a fine troupe of actors but they don’t gel as a cohesive ensemble.  Robert Sean Leonard is portrayed as an aloof ruler with too much on his mind.  He comes across as being too preoccupied when the very existence of his kingdom begins to crumble.  As with many actors that have played Arthur his musical numbers can be defined as soothing speak-sing.  Britney Coleman’s Guenevere, however, has a gorgeous voice, that fills the historic theater whenever she sings, which is quite often.  She is straightforward in her approach to the character with little shading to the role.  There is not much chemistry between her and King Arthur or her lover, Sir Lancelot, played by Stephen Mark Lukas.  The actor is brooding, loyal to a fault, but not showing much nuance with his portrayal.  He does possess a rich, robust voice that resonates beautifully in the musical’s signature number, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

Director Mark Lamos does what he can with the material and slimmed down version of the show.  But the rhythm and tonal quality of the concept doesn’t lend itself to a satisfying dramatic whole.  There is a lot of standing around and talking between the characters, but little besides the eloquent prose and pronouncements.   Choreographer Connor Gallagher adds a smattering of dance routines that keep with the minimal concept of the show.

Camelot, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse through November 5th.

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