Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 13, 2023
Camelot. Music by Frederick Loewe. Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Book by Aaron Sorkin. Based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner. Directed by Bartlett Sher. Music direction by Kimberly Grigsby. Choreography by Byron Easley. Set design by Michael Yeargan. Costume design by Jennifer Moeller. Lighting by Lap Chi Chu. Sound design by Marc Salzberg and Beth Lake. Projections by 59 Productions. Hair and wig design by Cookie Jordan. Fight direction by B. H. Barry. Vocal and dialect coach Kate Wilson. Orchestrations Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang. Dance and choral arrangements by Trude Rittmann.
Based too heavily (or, perhaps, as some would argue, not enough) on T. H. White's "The Once and Future King", Camelot's basic plot is that of a love triangle set within the kingdom of the idealistic King Arthur. It pits a grand if dangerous romance against an equally grand if dangerous vision of promoting equality and justice throughout the land, ultimately a collision course that becomes an impossible trap for all involved.
What comes off particularly well in this reworking of the story is the portrait it paints of Arthur as he grows from a callow and thoroughly unprepared king-by-accident to the visionary leader of that "fleeting wisp of glory" known as Camelot. Andrew Burnap in the role of Arthur handles the transition beautifully, and Phillipa Soo as Guenevere gives an equally strong performance as a daughter of royalty, familiar with both the courtly expectations and of the noblesse oblige instilled in her from birth.
In many ways, they are the perfect power couple, their royal marriage having been carved out of a treaty to end war between England and France. But what Guenevere doesn't foresee is that her self-assuredness and resolve will be sorely tested, and indeed will ultimately end with her downfall. Enter the French Lancelot du Lac, Guenevere's countryman whose very presence rocks her to the core.
As Lancelot, especially as we first meet him, Jordan Donica looks and plays the part of the "miles gloriosus," the bragging soldier character that dates back at least to the age of Roman comedy. He is as sure of the role he has carved out for himself as Guenevere is of hers. Their collision is as inevitable as the change in their relationship over the course of the show.
But muddle begets muddle, especially in Act II, with the introduction of the plot thread that is put into play with the appearance of Mordred (Taylor Trensch) and, later, of Mordred's mother Morgan Le Fey (Marilee Talkington). As presented in this version of the musical, both are on hand only to set the trap that drives Guenevere into Lancelot's arms and leads England to war. Not that I'd want to put any actors out of work (both Trensch and Talkington perform their roles well), but the downfall of the three leads and the broken treaty could have just as easily have taken place without them just by emphasizing the anger the other members of the upper class have over the very idea of equality with the "peasants."
Musically, this production works nicely. The orchestra is performing Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang's original orchestrations, and how nice it is to hear the likes of "Before I Gaze at You Again," "If Ever I Would Leave You," and "I Loved You Once in Silence" (here given to Lancelot rather than to Guenevere, but it works). I was also taken with Michael Yeargan's simple set design and the projections by 59 Productions, both of which make a good balanced use of the theatre's deep stage. Costume designer Jennifer Moeller has done a very good job of working the color scheme so that it moves from dark to brighter tones, a nice contrast to the show's overall light-to-dark tone.
Director Bartlett Sher's usually strong hand seems to have focused largely on the staging, which is often quite effective. There is an especially nerve-wracking scene of close swordplay that is a visual highlight of the action. Ultimately, though, this Camelot revival falls on its own sword with its reworked book.