Goodspeed’s Camelot Captures Imagination

By Amy J. Barry

Perhaps we all need to escape into a fantasy world where good still prevails over evil, magic is real, and the simple joys of maidenhood are enough—and the Goodspeed Opera House provides us with that world for a few hours in it’s current production of Camelot—the Loewe and Lerner classic musical fable.

The Goodspeed production about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is stylish, witty, visually stunning, and despite its sentimental themes is not over-sentimentalized, thanks to Rob Ruggiero’s understated direction, and actors who play their unbelievable roles with great believability and lots of charm.

Camelot opened on Broadway in 1960 and the Kennedy presidency soon adopted the name to signify a period of hope and optimism— a platform on which our current president ran. Although that honeymoon period has sadly ended too quickly, though, and may be why the show’s naïve idealism seems so attractive right now. 

The storyline isn’t silly and implausible as in many musical revivals—it’s good storytelling at its best—a romantic, historical tale in which chivalry and honor matter, knights prove their worth to fair maidens, and love is larger-than-life.

Bradley Dean shines as Arthur, a good man caught in a tragic Shakespearean triangle in which the two people he loves most helplessly fall in love with each other. Dean makes us care about Arthur’s struggles to lead a life of integrity, seeking truth over power, and trying to reconcile his anguish over Guenevere’s and Lancelot’s betrayal.

Subdued solos and duets that do great justice to the show’s beautiful songs outweigh over-the-top choreographed dance numbers prevalent in Goodspeed productions.

Marisa McGowan substituted for Erin Davie as Guenevere at the production we attended. She was fabulous as the headstrong queen, conflicted over her loyalty to Arthur and love for Lancelot, lending her lovely soprano to many of the numbers, from the upbeat “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Camelot” theme song to the somber, heartrending “Before I Gaze at You Again” and  “I Loved You Once in Silence.”

In addition to his imposing presence and good looks, Maxime de Toledo brings depth, humility, and humor to his role as Lancelot, proving there’s more than meets the eye to the at-first pompous-seeming knight in shining armor. And when he launched into the stunning “If Ever I would Leave You” with his rich baritone, more than a few of us swooned.

Adam Shonkwiler plays the creepy evil Mordred to the hilt with a heavy Scottish brogue and is a requisite contrast to all the characters of good conscience. Ronn Carroll as Pellinor is satisfactory but not particularly standout as the grumpy old king.

Arthur’s mentor Merlyn the Magician (Herman Petras) does a “cameo” early in the production—and unfortunately never returns to reiterate his words of wisdom. The magical nymph Nimue (Rebecca Pitcher) also appears for one visually delightful scene singing the sensual and haunting “Come Away.”

Sets by Michael Schweikardt featuring knarled trees and Celtic-patterned sliding panels that signal scene changes along with rich, mood-setting lighting by John Lasiter pulls us deep into the enchanted forest. Extravagant fur-trimmed robes, glittering armor, and gorgeous gowns
by costume designer Alejo Vietti complete the magical picture.

 “One brief, shining moment—that was Camelot,” we are reminded at the play’s end, socatch this worthy performance while you can through Sept. 19 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For tickets and performance schedule call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.

This review was published in the Living section of Shore Publishing Community Newspapers on Aug.27, 2009.


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