How to Endure Camelot?

By David A. Rosenberg

Instead of the song “How to Handle a Woman,” we should be listening to “How to Endure ‘Camelot’” now being given an efficient but congested rendering at New Canaan Summer Theater. The musical rests on several laurels: its initial, elaborate Broadway production starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet; its place as the first extravaganza by librettist / lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe after their incomparable “My Fair Lady”; its lilting score; and its forever-ingrained paean to JFK’s optimistic, short-lived administration.

But, truth to tell, it’s a ponderous enterprise that tells how the aborted romance between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere brings down the idealistic Knights of the Round Table devised by the queen’s husband, King Arthur. Emotionally unsatisfying, the musical reaches its apogee only in the final scene, a touching encounter between the disheartened Arthur and a young lad whom the king admonishes to remember Camelot’s championing of right over might.

As written, the show is so front-loaded with exposition and time-wasting repetitiveness in Act I that it doesn’t really get in gear until Guenevere and Lancelot lock eyes and hearts in scene eight. Then, just as the evening seems to find its footing, it stops cold again with the entrance of the annoying Mordred and off we go on another tangent.

Still, there’s that score: “Camelot,” “Before I Gaze at You Again,” “C’est Moi” and the exquisite “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Unfortunately, there’s also the endless “The Lusty Month of May” and the appalling “Jousts,” a poor knock-off of the Ascot number in “My Fair Lady.”

In New Canaan, the show’s drawbacks are compounded by excess. There’s too much streamer waving, too many people on the small stage, too much shouting. Glossed over is the conflict between passion and restraint that detonates both king and kingdom.

Under Melody Libonati’s animated direction, Sean Hannon, though not strong of voice, is an Arthur of innocence and wonder, a reluctant king who only wants to do good. Even when betrayed, he cannot help but look for the best in people. It’s a moving, even witty performance.

As Guenevere, Allison Gray sings beautifully but is hardly an untouched, naïve princess, unbalancing the relationship with Arthur. Also singing well is Richard Hartley as Lancelot, shaking the Waveny Park tent with “C’est Moi.” Emilie Roberts is a campy Morgan LeFey, Roland Llewellyn a blustery Pellinore, Christian Libonati an over-the-top Mordred.

The small orchestra under Tyler Beattie’s direction adds zest but Doug Shankman’s choreography is strictly grade-school. And, oh, Pellinore’s dog. Instead of a scroungy mongrel, we get a well-groomed Shih Tzu, adding insult to injury.

This review appeared in The Hour, Norwalk, July 23, 2009

 

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