Moments of Grandeur in Camelot

By Geary Danihy

            Myth carries with it its own grandeur. It is, by definition, larger than life. Thus, when a production company such as the Summer Theatre of New Canaan sets out to present a myth known as Camelot, Lerner and Loewe’s take on the legend of Arthur and Excalibur, a question immediately arises: can it capture the grandeur?
            The answer to the question is a qualified “Yes.” Budget realities have limited the show to a single set – a castle wall with a main entrance and two crenulated bastions at either end, plus a single tree stage left. That’s it. Given that the performance is presented in an open-sided tent, at matinees the sunlight lessens whatever effects lighting director Jeffrey Whitsett has created and makes impossible the use of darkness to enhance dramatic entrances and exits.
            But grandeur does not reside in setting alone, it is also a matter of human style and attitude, and here STNC’s production delivers, for the cast, by and large, is excellent and easily overcomes whatever limitations presented by sunlight and stretched budgets. This is especially true of the show’s Guenevere. Allison Gray, who appeared last year as Marian in STNC’s production of The Music Man, owns the role from the moment she rushes onto the stage. Jejune and wide-eyed at the start, she is a creature of courtly love as she sings “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” but experience at Camelot turns her into a conniving damsel sans merci as she plots Lancelot’s downfall in “Take Me to the Fair,” only to mature into the troubled woman of values who despairs as she sings “I Loved You Once in Silence.” Close your eyes as Gray sings these numbers and you’d swear that Julie Andrews had opted to return to the stage.
            As Arthur, Guenevere’s husband, Sean Hannon gives a nicely controlled performance as the boy, Wart, who did not want to grow up to be king. He is excellent in Arthur’s more contemplative or befuddled moments, as evidenced by his delightful delivery of “What the Simple Folk Do” and his struggles to understand the implications of the philosophy underpinning the Camelot he has, with Merlin’s help, created, but he is less so when the role calls for, well… grandeur. His final moments should be…mythical. Alas, they are mumbled. There are times when syllables need to be stretched or milked, if only because the audience wishes to linger in the moment. To rush is to steal said moment from the audience.
            As Lancelot, the knight of exquisite purity who eventually tumbles Arthur’s house of cards, Richard Hartley is less than prepossessing, perhaps because many of the costumes designer Arthur Oliver has given him to wear make him look like a sack of pommes.
Hartley talks (and sings) the Lancelot talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk. This is evident from his first number, the supremely egotistical “C’est Moi,” in which the character proclaims that he is the “Godliest man I know.” Well, it simply doesn’t look as if Hartley believes what he is singing, and when, at the start of the second act, he struggles with terminating his illicit relationship with Guenevere in “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the character’s signature song, we have smoldering embers where there should be flames.
            However, flames there are aplenty in the production’s supporting cast, and this is much to the credit of director Melody Libonati, who has apparently well-schooled these folks to understand that if the audience’s “eye” lights upon a subordinate character who is 
phoning-in his or her performance there is a diminution of interest and engagement well beyond the character’s importance to the production. The attendant knights, Sir Dinaden (Kenneth Linsley), Sir Lionel (Scott Ramsey), and Sir Sagamore (Jonathan Grunnet – Lancelot’s understudy – I hope he gets his chance. He has the look!), are all excellent, as are the distaff members of the entourage, especially Corinne Broadbent as one of Guenevere’s ladies in waiting. Is there a joust going on? Look at Broadbent’s face and you will understand the anxiety of the moment. Are we about to lustfully enter the merry month of May? Check out Broadbent’s wide-eyed eagerness and you will understand why the sap is rising.
            Given all of this, STNC’s production of Camelot soars to grandeur in its ensemble moments – “The Lusty Month of May”; “Jousts”; “Fie on Goodness”; and “Guenevere.” The voices rise, the cast coalesces, and for a moment you are not in New Canaan but on Broadway. It’s as good as that. These moments are more than brief, they are shining, and simple folk such as you and I would be well served to attend Arthur, his queen and her lover in Waveny Park. This one, brief, shining moment lasts until Sunday, Aug. 2.

 

            This review originally appeared in the Norwalk Citizen-News.

 

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