Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Moss Hart, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe followed up their smash hit My Fair Lady with this 1960 musical adaptation of the fantasy novel "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White. It tells the story of King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, the formation of the Knights of the Round Table, and the magical kingdom of Camelot. Lerner's book and lyrics and Loewe's score provide a realistic view of these royal characters and some of the most beloved romantic ballads in musical theatre.
When we first meet Arthur he is a nervous young man scared of meeting his arranged bride Guenevere, who is equally as scared and cautious. Yet after they accidentally meet they realize they actually fit perfectly together. The arrival of the somewhat pompous and self-assured Lancelot du Lac arrives sets in motion a rivalry among the three that ultimately leads to a somewhat sad, yet hopeful, ending.
ABT's leads are exceptional. As Arthur and Guenevere, Matthew C. Thompson and Stephanie Easterday immediately draw the audience in with their natural and assured takes on these characters. Thompson's introspective portrayal does well to show us Arthur's thought process and understanding of the obstacles he faces. Easterday is equally adept at portraying a woman who is just as smart and full of life and love as her husband. When Guenevere finds herself first at odds with then falling for Lancelot, Easterday never makes us doubt her character's change of heart. And while we feel Arthur's pain and loss, once the truth of the affair is known to him Lerner's book is so richly detailed and Easterday is so clear in her performance that we never feel anger toward Guenevere or Lancelot. As Lancelot, Jamie Parnell instinctively and immediately gets across the conflicted feelings he has for Guenevere based on the strong bond we see that he has with Arthur. All three of their voices are exceptional, with rich, clear and pure vocals that deliver knock-out versions of these beloved songs, including soaring versions of "If Ever I Would Lead You" and "Before I Gaze at You Again" and a beautiful "Camelot."
As Merlin and King Pellinore, the two older men whom Arthur looks up to, Michael Weaver provides plenty of heart and humor. Renee Kathleen Koher's beautiful voice gives a lilting air to Nimue and an appropriate feistiness to Morgan Le Fey. Only Stephen Hohendorf as Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son who is the brief antagonist of the show, is a bit out of place with his smirking and flamboyant take on this whining man compared to the the more down to earth realism the other characters provide.
Director James Rio provides the right balance of intimacy and regality to the piece, though he could pick up the pacing just a notch, as at the performance I attended the show ran just under three hours. Heather Adams's choreography provides some fun steps for the ensemble, while John D. Smith's musical direction is equally adept with the ensemble, providing a lush, beautiful soundtheir performance of "Guenevere" is stunning. Kara Thomson's simple yet elegant set design, Robin L. McGee's detailed costumes, which are full of intricate patterns and armor, and the beautiful lighting work by Jesse Portillo provide rich, multi-dimensional scenic images. Thomson's use of various swords and daggers for an always present sun is exquisite and highly original.
Camelot is a musical that captured the hearts of theatregoers in 1960 and, though it is slow in parts, ABT's joyous, joyful and inspiring production, with appealing, exceptional leads and rich creative elements, is just as captivating today.
Camelot runs through February 14th, 2017, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria, Arizona. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623-776-8400.
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
*Member, Actors' Equity Association