Review: CAMELOT at The Phoenix Theatre Company

CAMELOT, directed by Michael Barnard, runs through October 24th in the Company’s Mainstage Theatre.

By: Oct. 05, 2021
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Review: CAMELOT at The Phoenix Theatre Company Review: CAMELOT at The Phoenix Theatre Company Review: CAMELOT at The Phoenix Theatre Company

You don't need Merlin to make magic out of CAMELOT...not if Michael Barnard, a master of musical entertainment, is casting his spell on the stage of The Phoenix Theatre Company.

Nor it seems do you need the other mythical characters that populate Lerner and Loewe's full-blown production ~ King Pellinore, Nimue the water nymph, and Morgan LeFay.

It is satisfying enough that, in the small-cast version of the show (now running through October 24th), Barnard has assembled a top-notch cast of eight versatile and spirited artists to carry the Arthurian legend on their most capable shoulders.

Spearheading the troupe is a trio of triple-threat performers: James D. Gish as Lancelot, Toby Yatso as King Arthur, and Kate Cook as Guenevere.

I never cease to be amazed by the range and depth of Gish's acting and vocal chops. Once again, he delivers. His Lancelot is the perfect blend of charming, pretentious, and noble. It may even be fair to say that his soulful rendition of If Ever I Would Leave You puts Robert Goulet out of mind and to pasture.

I may run out of adjectives to describe Kate Cook's performance as Guinevere ~ lusty, lithe, effervescent, vibrant...and so it goes. This is a queen with an independent streak that falls hard for a dashing idealist and for whom the stakes of their forbidden romance may well be fiery.

Together, the chemistry between Gish and Cook is sparkling. As deeply rooted as is their mutual affection so is the King's adoration of his beloved Queen and the pain of betrayal.

For the role of Arthur, Barnard selected Toby Yatso ~ and what a bold and smart move it was. Known for his comedic chops and overall versatility, Yatso brings sweet humanity and dramatic depth to his role as the tormented King. There's not the heaviness of Richard Harris here. Rather, we encounter the everyman who would be king (mysteriously endowed with the strength to pull a sword from a rock) now struggling to define his royal vision. One thoughtful and well-conceived resolution after another begins to define a social order marked by virtue and reason that Arthur can only hope can be sustained by the Knights of the Round Table.

Yatso draws from his wide chalice of talent and delivers a stirring and highly relatable performance as he manages Arthur's transformation from the mindless young royal hiding in a tree, head over heels over Guinevere, to the husband betrayed by wife and friend and thus conflicted about his own ethics when fidelity and honor collide.

It may be that virtue and reason are defenseless against ruthless conspirators.

In this regard, life in the realm isn't complicated enough with the love triangle in the castle. No, it needs an added dose of danger. Enter Mordred, Arthur's exiled son, returned to wreak division and chaos and revenge on his father who denied him at birth. John Batchan plays the role with just the right amount of sinister and spite. Delicious evil incarnate!

All these superb performances benefit from the accompaniment of a marvelous supporting cast ~ Matravius Avent, Tony Castellanos, Julian Mendoza, and Kendrick Stallings; Jeff Kennedy's superb orchestra; Cari Sue Smith's beautifully conceived costumes; Aaron Jackson's set design; and Daniel Davisson's mood-enhancing lighting.

For those among us who can recall the year that Broadway welcomed CAMELOT, the musical is a bittersweet reminder of the gap between dream and reality and the idealized parallels between a medieval King and a 20th Century President. It was 1960. John F. Kennedy was elected 35th President of the United States. The man in the White House heralded promises of a New Frontier; King Arthur aspired to a chivalric order where might is only used for right, to improve instead of to destroy, where violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness. Although they dreamed their dreams, their fulfillment would be denied ~ for the time being ~ by sinister forces that lurked in their wings. It is not surprising then that these themes resonate and remain relevant in today's unsettled world.

It is on this political plane as well as that of rich entertainment that Barnard's production of CAMELOT should be seen and enjoyed.

CAMELOT runs through October 24th in the Company's Mainstage Theatre.

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

  1. L to R: Tony Castellanos, James D. Gish, Toby Yatso, Kate Cook, Matravius Avent, and Julian Mendoza
  2. L to R: Yatso and Cook
  3. L to R; Kenrick Stalling and Gish

The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ ~ https://www.phoenixtheatre.com/ ~ Box office: 602-254-2151



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