BWW Review: CAMELOT: Feeling Nostalgic for JFK
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe, Original Production Directed and Staged by Moss Hart, Based on The Once and Future King by T. H. White, Book Adapted by David Lee, New Orchestrations by Steve Orich; Directed by Spiro Veloudos; Music Director, Catherine Stornetta; Choreography by Rachel Bertone; Scenic Design, Shelley Barish; Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Sound Design, Elizabeth Cahill; Stage Combat Choreographer, J. T. Turner; Production Stage Manager, Robin Grady; Assistant Stage Manager, Nerys Powell
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston closes out the season with David Lee's adaptation of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot, a revision that hones in on the relationships among the three principals and retains the glorious score, while jettisoning considerable weight from the historically burdensome book. Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos shapes the production with his vision for the 21st century, assisted by the virtuosic Music Director Catherine Stornetta and Rachel Bertone, whose choreography blends medieval style with modern dance steps.
If this is your first journey to the magical land of Camelot, the inability to compare it to any earlier, full-blown versions may garner greater appreciation for the adaptation and the sincere performances from the multi-tasking ensemble. On the other hand, if you've seen the musical before, be prepared for the stripped down, lean quality of the Lyric's production. Presented in a storytelling style, there is no pomp and circumstance, no spectacle, and no pizazz. Depending upon your point of view, this may be a positive as it brings the plight of the characters sharply into focus, or it may feel too mundane and down to earth.
Ed Hoopman (King Arthur), Maritza Bostic (Queen Guenevere), and Jared Troilo (Sir Lancelot) each bring their own interpretation to their well-known characters. Hoopman easily conveys Arthur's ambivalence about the burdens and responsibilities of being King. It was so much less complicated being a knight, but he grows into the royal role and finds ways to use his power for good. He is the polar opposite of another famous musical theater king (the one in Siam), more interested in collaborating with the Knights of the Round Table than having people bow to him. Hoopman has a pleasant singing voice and connects well with the audience.
Bostic captures Guenevere's immaturity in the beginning, but she is less convincing as the target of every man's affection. Maybe it's me, but I kept seeing her as Little Red Riding Hood (the character she played in Lyric's 2014 Into The Woods) playing at being the Queen and toying with the men who surround her. She is a strong performer, but is less successful at digging into the layers of the character to make us feel how Guenevere feels about all that is happening to her. Hoopman and Troilo display their heartache more convincingly. Troilo also has fun with Lancelot's lack of humility, but it is his singing that is truly cause for celebration. Perhaps second only to the title song, "If Ever I Would Leave You" is well-known even by people who have never seen the show, thanks to Robert Goulet. However, I guarantee that his name will temporarily slip from your consciousness when Troilo opens the second act with his gorgeous, powerful rendition.
Speaking of gorgeous voices, the knights (Davron S. Monroe, Brad Foster Reinking, Jeff Marcus) are all outstanding in that department. Each gets his chance to shine solo ("Take Me to the Fair") and they present as a fierce, manly trio when crafty Mordred (Rory Boyd, earning his character's boos) convinces them to forsake Arthur's dream ("Fie on Goodness"). Doubling as the Queen's ladies and ensemble members are JorDan Clark, Margarita Damaris Martinez, and Kira Troilo, and Garrett Inman is young Tom who vows to carry the tales of King Arthur to the outside world.
Shelley Barish has designed a utilitarian set consisting of wooden ramps, steps, and tree limbs that suggest both indoor and outdoor locales. Limited furnishings are moved on and off stage (the round table, the royal thrones, the queen's sewing room), and a giant full moon is projected on the upstage wall. Many of the costumes by Elisabetta Polito are patchwork designs, a mix of period and present day, with nary a piece of armor in sight. Guenevere's dresses and robe are the most elaborate and colorful. Karen Perlow's lighting design and Elizabeth Cahill's sound design are effective. Stage combat is choreographed by J.T. Turner and everyone makes it out alive.
Camelot (1963) strikes a nostalgic tone, reminding us of the short-lived term of President John F. Kennedy, who represented youth, hope, and possibility. When JFK was assassinated, it shocked the nation and drove the populace into a communal depression that surely contributed to the upheaval that was a defining characteristic of the sixties. In the ensuing decades, each new president offered his vision for America, informed by the climate of the times. Some we respected, some disappointed us, and some we loved, but never before has there been a Commander in Chief so ill-prepared as the incumbent to lead our country, let alone the free world. And so, when King Arthur muses in the finale, "Don't let it be forgot, That once there was a spot, For one brief, shining moment, That was known as Camelot," his words convey his optimism that his efforts were not for naught, yet they elicit melancholy from us for what we have lost and may never regain.
Photo credit: Mark S. Howard (Ed Hoopman, Maritza Bostic)