BWW Review: CAMELOT Dazzles at Shakespeare Theatre Company
Director Alan Paul is bringing Lerner and Loewe's CAMELOT to a new generation, and his efforts couldn't be timelier. This stunning Shakespeare Theatre Company production at Sidney Harman Hall is a beacon of light in a city besieged by political unrest and uncertainty.
Lerner and Loewe's enduring story- a hallmark of the "Golden Age" of musical theatre- sets the love triangle between King of Arthur (of the infamous sword in the stone), Queen Guenevere, and the knight Lancelot against the backdrop of Arthur's struggle for civilization and goodness in a world of violence, barbarism, and hatred.
"Don't let it be forgot,
That once there was a spot,
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot."
For many, King Arthur's final lines are inextricable from CAMELOT's ties to the Kennedy era, and Kennedy himself. I perused dramaturge Drew Lichtenberg's exquisite program notes with great intrigue, previously unaware of Jaqueline Kennedy's recitation of these final lines in a Life magazine interview about her late husband. But as a millennial without any personal connection to the Kennedy era, I felt I could easily archive that information and take in the show with more recent political figures and events in mind.
The actors that director Alan Paul has assembled are ardently committed to breathing new, urgent life into this rendition of CAMELOT. CAMELOT is at its most compelling when any combination of Ken Clark (King Arthur), Alexandra Silber (Guenevere), and Nick Fitzer (Lancelot du Lac) are onstage. Clark and Silber cultivate a deep, playful love and affection for each other over the course of the first act. Alan Paul's attention to small, intimate moments helps paint a believable picture of two royals who truly love each other, and respect each other's intelligence. Guenevere's pride in Arthur as he comes to the realization that he must create a new order of chivalry felt so genuine it knocked a little of the wind out of me.
Ken Clark's King Arthur is something else. He imbues Arthur with power, humor, vulnerability, and even sex appeal. Clark handles "How to Handle a Woman" with such disarming sweetness that I almost forgot about the problematic/mysoginistic lyrics (almost). Nick Fitzer as our handsome "French Prometheus unbound" delights and amazes from his first bold entrance. Fitzer's "If Ever I Would Leave You" is rich, booming, musical theatre perfection. I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceptional ensemble, and the talents of Shakespeare Theatre Company veterans Ted Van Griethuysen (Merlyn) and Floyd King (King Pellinore).
Hats off to casting.
Every iota of design at Sidney Harman Hall is a sensual treat. From the imposing silver tree Arthur climbs to catch a glimpse of his future bride to the dimly lit bedroom in which Arthur and Guenevere steal intimate moments, the production value does not let up. Sumptuous lighting design by Robert Wierzel and costume design by Ana Kuzmanic could not be better suited to this show. While the costumes were largely magnificent, I question the decisions surrounding the "Fie on Goodness" costuming. Both the staging and costuming felt more "Greased Lightning" than Camelot, and I was briefly jarred awake from the continuity of our shared dream.
I won't spoil the ending, but suffice to say you will leave the theatre feeling something. As my theatre-going companion (who's seen a good deal of theatre in DC this year) remarked in earnest, "It is nice seeing some DC theater that doesn't hit you over the head with ham-fisted political symbolism." Shakespeare Theatre Company's CAMELOT beautifully reminds us that if stories are told they can live on forever, and that we can look to great leaders of the past to give us hope for the future.
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Alan Paul
Original production directed and staged by Moss Hart
Based on The Once and Future King by T. H. WhiteRuntime: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
DATES: May 22 - July 1
LOCATION: Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
TIMES: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. No performance on Monday. No performance on May 30.
TICKETS: $44 -118