BWW Review: CAMELOT: Jewels in the Crown
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; Directed and Choreographed by Russell Garrett, Musical Direction by David McGrory; Scenic Designer, John Traub; Costume Designer, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Designer, Chris Brusberg; Sound Designer, Steve Dee; Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle; Assistant Stage Manager, Leslie Sears; Fight Choreographer, Angie Jepson; Dialect Coach, Christine Hamel
Cast (in alphabetical order): Rachel Abbate, Troy Barboza, Rishi Basu, Michael J.Borges, Kevin Cirone, Shonna Cirone, Katie Clark, Benjamin Evett, Dashiell Evett, NatAlie Hall, Marc Koeck, Mark Linehan, Brittney Morello, Robert D. Murphy, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Julian Schepis, Jacob Sherburne, Erica Spyres, Nick Sulfaro, Jackie Theoharis, Jeremy A. Towle
Celebrating idealism and mourning what might have been are the hallmarks of the 1961 Tony Award-winning musical Camelot, the story of King Arthur, his beautiful Queen Guenevere, brave Sir Lancelot, and the innovative Knights of the Round Table. Featuring an outstanding score with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe (one of their last collaborations), it evokes an era of youth, hope, and possibility that was embodied in the administration of President John F. Kennedy, whose assassination fifty years ago provides a somber backdrop to New Repertory Theatre's production at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown.
Artistic Director Jim Petosa and Managing Director Harriet Sheets have given the region a wonderful holiday gift with the revival of Camelot, especially during this period of historical reflection. Director/Choreographer Russell Garrett's measured rendition gives clarity to Lerner's book, which has often been considered murky and dense, and places great emphasis where it belongs, on the passions of the star-crossed lovers. Although there remain two or three arcs of the story that are underdeveloped or superfluous, by and large the inherent theatricality, the lush score, and the stellar cast sweep us away.
The trio of Benjamin Evett (Arthur), Erica Spyres (Guenevere), and Marc Koeck (Lancelot) individually and collectively bring tremendous talents to their portrayals of the principals. Evett's boyishness serves him well in the opening scenes where Arthur is feeling insecure about his impending marriage ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight"). Guenevere isn't entirely sure that she is ready for the wedding either and sings about what she will be giving up ("The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). Upon seeing his lovely bride-to-be, Arthur is smitten with her and Evett's face expresses the joy, fear, and excitement of this new feeling. To hear Spyres' lilting, clear soprano is to know that Arthur will be powerless in its hold.
As Arthur gradually grows into his manhood and his responsibilities, Evett takes on a more confident bearing, and he and Spyres become a well-matched power couple, reveling in their love for each other and their desire to do something good. Guenevere is truly the power behind the throne as the once-reluctant King wants to be a better man and a better royal because of her. Together they brilliantly conceive of the idea of the round table so that no knight is superior to his peers and to encourage a new order of "might for right" in pursuit of peaceful missions. When news of Arthur's innovation spreads, knights come from faraway lands to join his cause. The crème de la crème is the far from humble Lancelot du Lac from France, a man of strength, purity, and amazingly good looks.
Koeck is blessed with a rich, beautiful baritone voice that leaves us wanting to hear more. He puts across the humor in "C'est moi" and, more importantly, nails Lancelot's signature song of ardor and lament ("If Ever I Would Leave You"). His musical skills compensate for the lower wattage of his acting - Koeck can't keep pace with Spyres in that department - but he is earnest and comes across better in his scenes with Arthur and the other knights. She radiates warmth and joie de vivre, drawing the attention and admiration of the ladies in waiting and all of the other knights ("The Lusty Month of May," "Take Me to the Fair"). However, Spyres is transcendent and rises to another plane with her ability to show Guenevere's struggle with her love for the two men in her life. Her watershed scene with Lancelot ("I Loved You Once in Silence") is likely to cause you to shed some water over her heartbreak.
The ensemble provides strong support with singing, dancing, and some well-placed pomp ("The Lusty Month of May," "Fie on Goodness"). Michael J. Borges, Kevin Cirone, Mark Linehan, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent standout as some of the Knights of the Round Table. Brittney Morello (Nimue) sings hauntingly, her voice entrancing Arthur's mentor Merlin (Robert D. Murphy) and erasing his memory of the future. Murphy does double duty (after Merlin's departure) as old family friend Pellinore, a trusted advisor and companion to Arthur. Nick Sulfaro is snarky and sinister as Arthur's illegitimate son Mordred who hopes to dethrone his old man with a little help from Morgan Le Fey (Katie Clark), his aunt with a sweet tooth.
Music Director David McGrory on piano leads the eight-piece orchestra which is much too lean to give full flower to Loewe's music. In addition, on the night of the press opening, there were too many sour notes and squeaks from the brass and woodwind sections. These voices deserve better accompaniment to highlight them, not detract from the audience's appreciation of them. Costume Designer Rafael Jaen has created a startling array of colorful gowns for Guenevere, royal garb for Arthur, and eclectic body armor for the knights, reflecting their global origins. Scenic Designer John Traub and Lighting Designer Chris Brusberg collaborate to suggest several locations both within and outside of the castle, including the use of an upstage trap door. Steve Dee's sound design is well-balanced between the singers and the musicians.
Camelot has a flawed history as a piece of musical theater, but its themes of duty, honor, love, and betrayal are both timeless and universal. Garrett and company capture the romance, the optimism, and the conflicted emotions that lead to the collapse of the dream. In a poignant moment, Young Tom of Warwick (Dashiell Evett, son of Benjamin, sings confidently) reminds Arthur of his idealism and represents hope for the future. He reminds us of all of those who were inspired by JFK and tried to follow in his footsteps. The echoes may have faded over the last fifty years, but for those of us who experienced the brief days of Kennedy's Camelot, they will reverberate eternally.