BWW Reviews: Kennedy Center Gives Stunning Farewell to Michael Kaiser with 2014 Spring Gala: CAMELOT IN CONCERT
There are those serendipitous instances once in a while when, as a theatre devotee, you strike Broadway and musical theatre gold. On Sunday May 4th, the Kennedy Center Spring Gala: CAMELOT IN CONCERT was just that. Kennedy Center patrons, dressed in their finest, were treated to an evening of perfect vocals, stunning costumes, and a beautiful tribute to not only departing President Michael Kaiser, but the themes of the musical itself.
During his opening remarks, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein explained that Kaiser chose CAMELOT for a few reasons. The musical was one of President John F. Kennedy's favorites, and the themes spoke to him. Kaiser, who also spoke briefly before the show, thanked everyone for giving him the opportunity to have "the best arts job in the world." A slideshow displayed his myriad of achievements over the past 13 years, and the performance began.
I must begin by applauding the Kennedy Center design team on their vivacious attention to detail. Scenic Coordinator Christian Boy's set of the concert was ethereal. The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Moore, sat upstage center, with a stone castle façade surrounding them and a turret on either side. Benches and thrones were moved around throughout the show, but it was kept blissfully simple, so as not to take away from the performances. Lighting Designer Dan Covey mixed vibrant colors to enhance the set and mood.
And then there were the costumes. Designer Tracy Christensen assuredly has an eye for detail and mixing colors. Each costume was opulent, with gold appearing throughout the array. While one or two actors stumbled on overly long gowns, they hid it well, and it was too pretty to really discount any of it.
Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge adapted the storyline of CAMELOT to fit in a shorter time frame. A musical number and several parts of the plot were cut; however, the basic storyline remained intact enough to be followed. King Arthur (Brian Stokes Mitchell), a young, incredibly aloof ruler, marries Guenevere (Laura Michelle Kelly) and works to rule Camelot by incorporating the lessons of Merlyn (Tony Sheldon) and civilized leadership. As Guenevere falls for Arthur's lead knight Lancelot (Ryan Silverman), Arthur must decide the fate of the two people he loves most, and how best to protect and fight for his kingdom and its ideals.
Seeing Brian Stokes Mitchell perform live was an absolute privilege. Mitchell captures the innocence of Arthur at the beginning, and nearly brought me to tears as Arthur later realizes the betrayal of his wife's heart. His comedic timing throughout the performance, especially on "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight" was effortless, and although he used a binder for lines, he made it part of his character. His voice soared on each song, demonstrating perfect control and love of the music.
As Guenevere, Laura Michelle Kelly proved both mischievous and incredibly sweet. Her voice was beautiful during timeless songs such as "I Loved You Once in Silence" and "Before I Gaze at You Again", and she made "Simple Joys of Maidenhood" truly fun. Ryan Silverman's cocky yet "pure" Lancelot had great depth, despite the abbreviated time to develop his character, and his voice resonated as he marched through the audience.
Tony Sheldon was also great fun as both Merlyn and Pellinore. Pellinore is goofy beyond measure, and Sheldon aced every joke, dancing about the stage and delighting everyone. Josh Grisetti was charged and deliciously evil as Mordred, using the entire stage and audience to carry out his character's dastardly plots.
As previously stated, there is a magic to evenings where everything is in sync. This year's Kennedy Center Spring Gala was a dream of a performance and event, supporting both Michael Kaiser and his incoming successor Deborah Rutter. As Kaiser pointed out, "this work is not done", and it is my hope that performances such as this carry on, much like the legend of Camelot.
The Kennedy Center Spring Gala: CAMELOT IN CONCERT was a single evening event. For more information on upcoming Kennedy Center performances, visit their website.