BWW Reviews: Broadway Tour of CAMELOT Dusts Off an Old Tale at PPAC
Some classic stories, tales, myths and legends do more than stand the test of time. They speak to generation after generation, entertaining and teaching new audiences across the ages. The legends of King Arthur and his knights of Camelot are those kinds of stories. They remain as well-known and beloved today as they have ever been. There are similar theatrical entertainments, plays and musicals, that stand the test of time, entertaining the masses in the same way for years and decades. Unfortunately, Camelot, the musical version of those Arthurian legends, is not that kind of musical.
Based on the story "The Once and Future King," by T. H. White, the Broadway musical has book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, with the original production having been directed and staged by Moss Hart. Those are Broadway luminaries, no doubt, but this dated musical just doesn't carry the same kind of appeal or deliver the same kind of entertainment value that it must have when they first conceived and created it.
While there are many stories which make up the legends of King Arthur and his era, this musical focuses squarely on the most well-known, the love triangle between Arthur, Gunevere, his queen, and Lancelot, one of the knights of the round table. Some of the other famous and beloved characters make very brief appearances, including Merlin and Mordred. Other characters, like Morgan Le Fay and Galahad, are nowhere to be found. In this regard, focusing on such a narrow aspect of the Arthurian stories, the show is hit and miss.
Mostly, though, there are misses. As mentioned, some of the most interesting and/or entertaining characters are hardly part of the musical. Merlin appears, furthers the plot a bit, then disappears, his time on stage all too short. Mordred also appears late and really only does so to throw a wrench into the works, to further the plot. He and Merlin are both no more than plot conventions, a means to an end, rather than an actually fleshed out character. In fact, none of the knights or ladies of the court are ever given any real depth or characterization. Few of them are even directly referred to by name, so it's hard to even know who is who.
Another miss is how the central romance is played out. Some aspects, such as Arthur and Guenevere's early days together, are given time to live and breathe, to develop. The fateful romance between Guenevere and Lancelot, though, is rushed and glossed over. Worse, it never feels real or believable. It happens suddenly and without and real buildup, it's impossible to believe that Guenevere is suddenly in love with him now, based solely on one single virtuous act by the knight. Not helping is the fact that the songs which tell the story of the love triangle are unimpressive and unexceptional. There really isn't a truly great or truly memorable song in the bunch, though they are all very lovely sounding.
Hits and misses continue in the casting of this touring production. The biggest hit is Adam Grabau as King Arthur. One of the two best talents on stage, he carries much of the show by himself. His Arthur is given a nuanced and believable journey, from a young, conflicted and insecure man who must be king all the way to a wise, world-and-war-weary man who must learn how to forgive and move forward. Grabau does a brilliant job of creating all of Arthur's conflicted moments and his struggles to create the kind of idealized world he imagines and longs to create.
The other of the two best talents on stage is Arthur's queen, Guenevere, played by the radiant Mary McNulty. She has one of the most beautiful voices heard on PPAC's stage in recent memory, made even more impressive by how effortless it seems. While some singers seem to struggle at times to create the desired effect, McNulty seems to need only open her mouth and glorious music comes from her soul (though I'm sure she also works very hard at her craft). All of the show's highlights happen when McNulty and Grabau are on stage together. They have a wonderful, undeniable chemistry that crackles and sparkles between them. Their song early in act one, when they basically woo and court each other while singing about Camelot, is one of the best moments in the show. Another is a scene later where the two plot and make plans, bouncing off of each other effortlessly. They're so good together, all of the moments without them present suffer by comparison.
As far as casting, the biggest miss is Tim Rogan as Lancelot. According to his bio, Rogan has played Gaston in the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. He seems to have continued that role, as his performance here is basically Gaston playing Lancelot. There's little to no real, believable life in this knight of the round table, who is completely unlikable. Yes, he's virtuous and noble, but also pompous, arrogant, conceited, irritating and a little dumb. And there's nothing about this Lancelot that would make one believe that Guenevere might fall in love with him. Worse, there is absolutely no chemistry between Rogan and McNulty. Their scenes as two sides of the love triangle lack any spark or passion whatsoever, making the relationship feel forced and fake.
A talented ensemble fills the rest of the production and all are capable and talented. They make gorgeous music together when they sing and perform admirably when asked to execute stage combat and war-like scenes. It's unfortunate that none of them are ever really given a moment to really do anything, to shine in the spotlight for a moment or become a relatable, sympathetic character. The one exception might be Kasidy Devlin as Mordred. He does do a wonderful job creating a sinister young man who clearly seeks the destruction of Arthur, though his story is only partially fleshed out.
It's hard to argue with the friend who described this show as "old and dusty." The material doesn't hold up well over time and it's easy to see why the show isn't revived or produced all that often. While there are some excellent moments here and there, the show as a whole becomes rather dull, from the forgettable songs that all sound the same to the poorly told soap opera of a love story. While this may be a perfect musical for fans of the music of Lerner and Loewe, anyone interested in the Arthurian legends would be better of visiting the local public library.
Camelot runs at Providence Performing Arts Center through December 14th. Tickets are available at the box office at 220 Weybmosset Street in downtown Providence, online at www.ppacri.org, and by phone at 401-421-ARTS (2787). Box office hours are Monday through Friday, 10am to 5pm, Saturday, 10am to 2pm and at least two hours prior to all curtain times. Tickets are $77 to $50.