“Camelot,” at Goodspeed Musicals

    ---Irene Backalenick

This time around Goodspeed Musicals offers a good deal more than a charming river view and an historic opera house. It is the production itself—a stunning version of the Lerner-Loewe musical “Camelot.” Under Rob Ruggiero’s inspired direction the musical takes flight from its opening moments to its final upbeat message.

“Camelot” (for any one who does not know the King Arthur story) is based on England’s own mythology. The legendary King supposedly invented knightly ideals, raising values to new heights. His knights would pursue goals of honor and purity—goals which supposedly fueled the Crusades of the Middle Ages.

But this modern musical carries the Arthurian views one step further. Arthur sets up his own Round Table of knights who will resolve differences, not by battles, but by words. Modern law and order will replace the timeless strife of warfare. Written in 1960, the musical, in fact, went on to provide the Kennedy White House with the “Camelot” label. And, ironically parodying the musical, the Kennedys would have their own “one brief shining moment” before going down to disaster.

The story itself centers, not only on Arthur’s ideas and growing maturity, but on his marriage, doomed when Guinevere, his queen, becomes enamored of Lancelot, Arthur’s favorite knight. Hence, as one character comments, Camelot is a place “where the tables are round and relationships triangular.”

The production itself is fueled by an energy and immediacy that owes much to Bradley Dean as Arthur. Initially, Dean comes across as too boyish and uncertain, though indeed fetching. Where is his regal persona? But, as characterized by Dean, he gradually matures and grows in stature throughout the story. Thus Dean not only gives spine to the entire production, but depth to the character.

The role of Guinevere was taken over brilliantly by Marissa McGowan (who replaced the lead Erin Davie for this performance). We have no basis for comparison of both actors, but no one could have given the role more star appeal and more humanity than McGowan does. And her sweet, pure singing voice is an added plus.

In fact, the entire ensemble is blessed with good voices, which is certainly true of Maxime de Toledo as Lancelot. Yet de Toledo and McGowan are less than convincing as the star-crossed lovers. Where is the chemistry? Any Guinevere worth her salt would have preferred this Arthur to this Lancelot. And indeed, as it comes across on stage, she does seem to prefer her King. But so much for minor quibbles.

Another memorable aspect is the design itself. Michael Schweikardt’s set and Alejo Vietti’s costumes are offbeat, but absolutely on target. The set is minimal, with one huge stone wall as backdrop, alleviated only by etched panels and one huge tapestry. Vietti’s costumes suggest the early Middle Ages or more primitive times, but also convey a timeliness. Sets and costumes are unusual for Goodspeed’s usual ornate presentations, but work beautifully in this production.

In all, one of Goodspeed’s best, under Ruggieros’ sure hand, and not to be missed.

This review appears in the CT Post, some few days after Aug. 13, 2009, and on nytheaterscene.com.


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