No matter the season, we learn in Drury Lane’s new production of Camelot, there is simply no more congenial spot than Camelot. It only rains at night, it’s not too hot in the summer, and there’s a legal limit of snow. If only that were true in Chicago!
I found Camelot to be quite congenial, as directed by Alan Souza and with Executive Producer Kyle DeSantis at Drury Lane in Oak Brook, IL, now playing through January 4, 2015. Lerner and Loewe’s grand old musical is made fresh again, as fresh as the green leaves found on the massive tree anchoring the set.
Camelot was first performed on Broadway in 1960 with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton. Over the fifty-plus years since that initial Tony Award-winning beginning, the play has been performed on stages large and small and a 1967 movie version can be found in DVD-land. I had only seen bits and pieces of the movie prior to seeing the Drury Lane performance and was familiar with some of the music. The story is about King Arthur (some time after he pulls out the Excalibur sword and takes his place as king) and his Queen Guenevere in Camelot. Arthur’s desire is to create something good in the world. He comes up with a plan to bring all the best and strongest men together at a round table, where no one is better than another, so they can have “might for right.” When the confident, handsome, and capable Sir Lancelot joins the cause, there begins a love triangle with the Arthur, Guenevere and Sir Lancelot that ultimately is the undoing of Camelot. The original version, according to that venerable source of information, Wikipaedia, was well over three hours. This version came in under two and half hours. Since I have not seen the original version, I cannot say what was not included.
I enjoyed the actors and the music very much. Ken Clark, as King Arthur, is energetic , very funny, and at times self-deprecating and earnest with his desire to do something good. He has a tremendous voice and all of his musical numbers were a standout for me. Queen Guenevere, portrayed by Christy Altomare, is lithe and beautiful. She plays “Genny” as vivacious, funny, smart, and with a desire for adventure. Her vocal talent stood up to the needs of the role and I especially enjoyed her interplay with Arthur. My favorite musical number of the night was the unforgettable “If Ever I Would Leave You,” sung masterfully by Travis Taylor in his role as Sir Lancelot. Mr. Taylor makes the role his own with his stage presence and vitality.
The other characters are played with exuberance and skill. I enjoyed Jonathan Weir, who plays both Merlin and Pellinore. Patrick Rooney, who plays the King Arthur’s son and the villain Mordred, was sly and devious, and delightfully made my skin crawl. The chorus of ladies in waiting, knights, and peasants gave fullness to the cast and their musical numbers were rich and well done. With the opening night jitters out the way, I believe the dance choreography will tighten up.
The set production was outstanding. The scene changes with different views of the seasons and the pop-up center keep the audience engrossed and centered in the action. The first major scene, with King Arthur and Merlin, included Arthur hiding in the tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of his soon-to-be wife Guenevere and Merlin performing pyrotechnic magic while fog threaded through the entire stage. A bang-up way to start!
In addition to the moody stage, the costume design by Maggie Hofmann, was rich and wonderful. The use of furs and the designs brought to mind the costuming from Game of Thrones (HBO) and I loved the use of color and layering.
My only concern with Camelot is with the story, not the production. Guenevere and Lancelot fall in love, but honestly, I don’t get why. It kind of just happened with one scene. And then they hide their love for years out of their mutual love and admiration for King Arthur. When Mordred is stirring up trouble and King Arthur needs them the most, they consummate their love, thus sending the kingdom into shambles. Finally, Arthur saves them, essentially, and forgives them both. Say what? I’m not sure I could buy into this story, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying it.
There was one scene where Merlin gets taken by Nimue (Keewa Nurullah), which he as foreseen in his crazy backwards life. Perhaps the scene was a little melodramatic for my taste, but was a grand spectacle for the audience.
If you have a love of the American musical, and enjoy terrific staging and musicality, I highly recommend Camelot. Drury Lane continues to bring excellent production value and high quality theatre to the western suburbs. And watch for the surprise actor in the middle of the first act!
Camelot is playing now through January 4, 2014 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, IL. Check their website here for more details or call the box office at (630) 530-0111.