By Marlene S. Gaylinn
At Westport Country Playhouse (WCP) we have what’s termed, “a re imagined” version of this romantic fantasy, which is based on a folktale that’s been handed down and revised numerous times since the Middle Ages. Likewise, the original musical by Lerner and Loewe was revised many times and criticized for being too long and talky when it opened on Broadway starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet -- yet the show won four Tony Awards.
In WCP’s production, the colorful characters of Merlin (the magician), Morgan Le Fey (Mordred’s wicked mother) and Pellinore (the wise grandfather) were omitted – probably because Artistic Director, Mark Lamos, also felt that the tale was too long. His version features an idealzed Camelot that comes with colorfully, costumed revelers, and a fully integrated cast and chorus of very earnest villagers and knights seeking a common cause. If you love beautiful songs and jousting knights, this is the family show that delights.
However, there are complexities to cover while depicting a philosopher king and his humanly, imperfect court. Therefore, everything cannot be fully told in song. For example, in the first scene, a melancholy King Arthur, meets and greets his lively, queen-to-be Guenevere.When the melodious, introductory songs, “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight,” and “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” are over, the next scene suddenly finds the couple singing again -- about wondrous “Camelot” -- in bed! It’s up to the audience to figure out that somehow, in-between the singing and the bedding, a royal marriage took place. Otherwise, it’s hard to realize that the Queen’s affair with Sir Lancelot is extra-marital. Of course this whole illicit relationship business is even harder to explain to children because this musical is after all, an adult fairytale with a bittersweet ending.
King Arthur envisions a world without boundaries and therefore no conflicts and no wars. Even the natural environment, its climate and weather conform to the pleasantries of his ideals. To his disappointment, he finds that human nature is imperfect, his wife is in love with someone else, there is discord among his knights and throughout his kingdom there are unexpected, evil elements and difficult forces to contend with. And, still the King dreams on about a shining future in a place called “Camelot.”
Bearing a strong resemblance to Richard Burton, Robert Sean Leonard, plays a very wise and tolerant King Arthur, Britney Coleman, is his free-spirited, beautiful, Queen Guinevere, and Stephen Mark Lukas is the handsome, fearless rival, “Lancelot.”All three leads are wonderful actors and have outstanding voices. Of the supporting actors, Patrick Andrews plays the sneering, evil “Mordred,” Mike Evariste is the dynamic leader of the revelers’ chorus, and the little boy “Tom,” is spunky, clear-spoken, Sana Sarr.The full-sounding, live orchestra is led by Michael Barker, and the rich and lovely costumes are by Wade Laboissonniere.
President John F. Kennedy loved this musical.The handsome, young president and his charming wife and children captured the public’s admiration and thus their White House occupancy was dubbed “Camelot” by the media. However, our very troubled nation was far from being an idealized Camelot and when the President was killed, ironically, the show’s words proved true. Our nation was left with just the fantasy – the wistful ideal of that “brief, shining moment” that never really was.
And yet, “Camelot” is still the uplifting hope of Mankind for a perfect society and a peaceful, harmonious world. T.J. Whites 1958 story, “The Once and Future King” (from which this musical was adopted), is therefore timeless.
This fine production of “Camelot” is the final offering of this season. The musical has been extended, so you still have time to see it.
Plays to Nov. 5 Tickets: 203-227-4177
This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” October/2016