‘Camelot’s’ Mythic Qualities Captured
By Geary Danihy
The production team at the Goodspeed Opera House is renowned nation-wide for being able to stage “big” musicals in relatively small surroundings. The fame is well deserved, but with its latest production, Camelot, director Rob Ruggiero and set designer Michael Schweikardt seem to have made certain decisions based on the size of the venue that do not serve this otherwise admirable production very well.
Schweikardt decided to constrict the actors’ (especially the dancers’) movements by creating a raked platform and setting it center stage, thus physically and psychologically decreasing the size of an already space-starved stage. Hence, much of the movement seems funneled (this is especially true for the dancers – although there isn’t much dancing in the show) rather than flowing.
In dealing with this constriction, Ruggiero opens up the production beyond the proscenium to mixed effect. He has Mordred (Adam Shonkwiler) taunt Arthur (Bradley Dean) from the edge of the mezzanine, which works well enough except perhaps for the folks sitting near the nasty little creature. However, the procession up the aisles of knights and ladies draped in dark capes and carrying lanterns during the show’s final number, “Guenevere,” may work for those sitting in the rear of the orchestra or up in the mezzanine, but from the perspective of most of the audience the effect is less than majestic – just dark shapes moving and turning.
That being said, the show is nicely paced and exceptionally well cast. Dean brings to the role of Arthur a wry sense of humor that balances nicely against his more magisterial moments as the once and future king. Erin Davis is cast as Guenevere, but on the evening I saw the production she was “under the weather” and Marissa McGowan, normally a member of the Ensemble, assumed the role. I can only hope that McGowan’s parents were in the audience that night because she delivered an exquisite performance, pert and saucy in the opening numbers and sufficiently chastened and rueful enough at the end to draw tears from several members of the audience sitting near me.
The most difficult role in the show is that of Lancelot, the “most godliest knight” he knows. This is a character who borders on the insufferable throughout most of the first act and to pull it off it requires an actor who can deliver saintly sincerity with a twinkle in his eye. This Maxime de Toledo does, as is evident in his first number, “C’est Moi,” in which he sings the praises of self while, with subtle gestures, mocks the words he is singing.
Shonkwiler’s Mordred is sufficiently nasty without being mewling, and Herman Petras does a nice job as Merlyn, though he seems a bit constricted by costume and make-up – his beard and robes make him look like a giant medieval puffin. Rounding out the principals, Ronn Carroll is a pleasant enough Pellinore, though one might wish that he had been allowed to be just a bit more addled (and where, pray tell, is the dog?).
There are many “versions” of Camelot. In previews before it hit Broadway it originally ran close to four hours, and major cuts, emendations and song deletions and additions were made by Frederick Lowe, the composer, and Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist. Thus, when staging the production one can choose from a Camelot of your choice, and although most of Ruggiero’s decisions (if, in fact, they were his or his alone) about organization of scenes and placement of numbers work well, I question the removal of the “Fie on Goodness” number (even though it was cut from the original production), a rousing crowd-pleaser that reinforces Mordred’s manipulation of the knights’ growing discontent and, in its stead, segueing the “Knight Songs” into the somewhat anemic love ballad, “Toujours” that Lancelot sings to Guenevere.
Perhaps the most famous of the show’s numbers, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” sung to Guenevere by Lancelot, is given an interesting twist by Ruggiero. The song is often seen as the embodiment of the medieval concept of Courtly Love in which the knight must, among other things, compose ballads and poems for his lady love (normally of higher rank and, supposedly, unattainable). However, in this production the song’s seductive qualities are emphasized, with Lancelot tumbling into bed with Guenevere at its conclusion.
What Ruggiero has done exceedingly well is capture the mythic qualities of the story, no more so than in the opening scenes and in the show’s conclusion which, if not handled properly, can become somewhat maudlin. However, as Arthur urges young Tom of Warwick (Charles Everett Crocco) to never forget that “for one brief shining moment” there was such a thing as Camelot, he is every inch the king and we believe, once again, that such things are possible.
Camelot runs through Saturday, Sept. 19. For tickets or more information call 860-873-8668 or go to www.goodspeed.org.
This review originally appeared in The Norwalk Citizen-News.