Lusty Knights and Busty Maidens Romp in Goodspeed’s New “Camelot”

By Don Church & Tony Schillaci – Critics On The Aisle

There’s no time like the hard-knock present to do some happily ever-aftering at Goodspeed’s production of the Tony Award-winning “Camelot.” 

As acclaimed director Rob Ruggiero said, “It’s not your grandfather’s ‘Camelot.’ ” And he’s right: it’s better, shorter (Amen), sprightlier, wittier, the knights are handsomer, the ladies lovelier, the villain more villainous.  And soon, you’ll forgive and forget the absence of the brilliant original stars: Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet, and Roddy McDowell. 

The soaring and melodic score by Frederick Loewe and the witty and touching lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner set the tone and rhythm for this tale of the legendary King Arthur, his fabled round table and the star-crossed love triangle of Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot. 

The talented and skilled cast exceeded our expectations in surprising ways at a performance several days after the official press show.  As much as we looked forward to seeing for the first time Erin Davie (Guenevere) who followed the brilliant Christine Ebersole into Broadway’s "Grey Gardens”, she was out sick. Marissa McGowan, a member of the ensemble (Lady Anne), stepped into this principal part and gave a star-is-born performance.  

Herman Petras gave two of the evening’s finest performances in his own role as Merlyn as well as filling in as Pellenore for an ill Ronn Carroll. Petras’ English accent sounded spot-on and should be the benchmark for all non-British performers in similar parts.

Adam Shonkwiler thrilled and chilled us with his solid characterization as the scheming and slimy Mordred; each time he pronounced “your Majesty” in his Scots burr, an evil sound dripped from his lips.

The three knights: Brandon Andrus (Sir Lionel), Steve French (Sir Sagramore) and Michael Deleget (Sir Clarius)
were exactly what we would expect of knights in shining armor, plus they could act, sing and dance!

Rebecca Pitcher (Nimue) in her brief solo scene thrillingly sang the haunting and seductive “Follow Me.”  One of many towering moments in this musical revival.

Bradley Dean (Arthur), most recently seen on Broadway as Sir Galahad in “Spamlot,” created a character that grew from an unlikely candidate as king into a brave and wise leader of Camelot.  He gave a charming and energetic performance.   

Maxime de Toledo as Lancelot fit the bill physically – tall, dark, and handsome - and filled the stage with his dashing presence, but for whatever reason he sang "If Ever I Would Leave You” in a whisper and showed us his singing technique.  As Ethel Barrymore once said, The secret of good acting lay in disguising the workings of one’s technique.”  That minor observation aside, de Toledo’s Lancelot is not to be missed for its sensual romanticism and regal elegance.

Charles Everett Rocco lit up the stage and our spirits as the young and idealistic Tom of Warwick.  His performance was true and clear as the boy who would be the keeper of Arthur’s flame – words, not war, chivalry and honor. It’s the perfect antidote for today’s troublesome headlines.

This revival of “Camelot’ is well-served by Michael Schweikardt’s soaring set with its great tree framing the action with tapestries, stone walls, sliding panels and many levels on which so many actors move through implied castles and forests without bumping into each other. 

The lighting design by John Lasiter compliments each of the indoor and outdoor settings and emotional mood of each scene.  Ralph Perkins subtle choreography is more rhythmic walking than dancing which suits the storyline. Jay Hilton’s sound design is more effective when the performers were singing, but not as good when they were speaking.  

The well-designed costumes by Alejo Vietti are darker than usual in American musicals, but evoked what we think of as the Middle Ages when the nobility were elaborately dressed while the simple folk were draped in earth-colored rustic cloth to denote their lower station in life.

Producer Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals and director Rob Ruggiero have done it again - giving us another updated revival of a beloved and classic musical through a well-thought out and creative vision.  Don’t miss it.

“Camelot” plays at Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT, through September 19, 2009.  Wed., 2:00 & 7:30 p. m.; Thurs. 7:30 p. m. with select performances at 2:00 p. m., Fri., 8:00 p. m., Sat., 3:00 & 8:00 p. m.; Sun., 2:00 p. m. with select performances at 6:30 p. m. Tickets are $27.50 to $74.50.  Call 860.873.8668 for availability, select performances, special events, Free Thursdays Backstage at Goodspeed, or go to www.goodspeed.org
“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” begins September 25.

© Copyright 2009. Critics On The Aisle.  All rights reserved.

Published in Metroline Friday, August 21, 2009 – print & online edition

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