If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Reimagined “Camelot” at Westport Playhouse
The “reimagined” production is a relatively new movement in the theatre. It involves reshaping and reducing a big-budgeted musical to a manageable (read: economical) size. In recent seasons on Broadway we have seen critically acclaimed revivals of “Sweeney Todd”, “Into the Woods” and the current “The Color Purple” given creative new renderings. That is the current situation at the Westport Playhouse where Artistic Director Mark Lamos has taken on that beloved 1960s warhorse, “Camelot”, and delivered a lovely, uncluttered show in the process. The musical caps off a fairly successful season at the theatre.
“Camelot” is, of course, the classic Lerner and Loewe musical based on T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King”. It concerns the legend of King Arthur, his arranged marriage with the beautiful Queen Guenevere and the arrival to his round table of the gallant Sir Lancelot. The iconic score includes such favorites as “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”, “C’est Moi” and “If Ever I Would Leave You”. At Westport, Mr. Lamos has stripped the musical down to its essence with a minimum of scenery, a cast of only seven men and one woman, a revised script by David Lee and new orchestrations by Steve Orich. Having seen many productions of this popular show over the years, I found it refreshing to lose all the fuss and pageantry and rely primarily on the musical’s touching central story and glorious score.
Tony winner Robert Sean Leonard, who played the teen hero of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at the Playhouse way back in 1986, returns as King Arthur bringing gravity and a heroic presence to the role immediately captivating the audience with his rendering of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?”. Leonard is simply magnetic and also shares great chemistry with Britney Coleman playing Guenevere. Miss Coleman, who recalls Audra McDonald at her best, glows with youthful vitality and sings beautifully while handsome Stephen Mark Lukas, with his chiseled features and enviable voice, manages to make nobility funny, moving and sexy. The three leads are the primary key to the success of this production.
A few caveats remain, however. The inclusion of a group of masked revelers to convey news and bridge scenes seems more cutesy than clever and the overly busy choreography (by Connor Gallagher) for the “Lusty Month of May” number should be seriously rethought. I also question Mr. Lukas’ thick French accent which mysteriously disappears by the second act. Finally, the use of a young boy as the musical’s “storyteller” seems a trifle twee given the sophistication of the rest of the revival.
Michael Yeargan’s scenic design, well lit by Robert Wierzel, includes minimal pieces framed by a grandly designed scrim depicting the Camelot kingdom. Wade Laboissonnier’s costuming is period appropriate while keeping with the production’s less-is-more mindset. In all, there may not be a more congenial spot these days than the Westport Playhouse.
“Camelot” has been extended at the Westport Playhouse through November 5. For further information call the theatre box office at: 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.