(“Camelot” plays at the SF Playhouse July 16 to September 21, 2013)
Lerner and Loewe‘s charming musical of Arthur and Guinevere carries a lot of historical weight. Few viewers will forget that this was one of Jack Kennedy’s favorite plays, with its vision of a kingdom where might is always used for right and the good guys are truly in charge. It was a vision that inspired a nation and then seemed to die tragically with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and the tumultuous years of war that followed. For many alive today, those early years of the 1960s were, indeed, just “one brief shining moment”.
That’s a lot for a relatively light-weight musical to carry on its back, and Director Bill English has correctly surmised that a “Camelot” for today must carry a subtext of a grittier, more realistic vision than earlier versions. Thus, Guinevere, in this production, is not wholly innocent, the knights are truly violent, Arthur is genuinely confused, and Lancelot far from perfect. There is much to admire and enjoy, including the skillful musical direction of Dave Dobrusky and the subtle characterization (with beautiful singing) of Guinevere by the gifted Monique Hafen. The cast also includes Tony winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Lancelot, who is bursting with presence. And it is always a treat to enjoy the work of Charles Dean, who, alas, is not quite happily cast in the dual comedic roles of Merlin and King Pelinore. He’s game, however, and delivers some fine moments, especially when the befuddled Pelinore stands up to the evil young Mordred. (And the eccentric costuming of his comical Merlin will not soon be forgotten.)
Taken as a whole, “Camelot” is not fully satisfying. The melodies and lyrics are charming, but lack the deeper wit, insight and characterization evident in the much richer “My Fair Lady“. Alan Jay Lerner was a talented lyricist and a fine writer, but when it comes to the book, he was no George Bernard Shaw. In essence, the material is flimsy. And, for all the talent at hand here, without the richness of a full Broadway orchestra and the remarkable star talents of Julie Andrews or Richard Burton (who, of course, originally created the roles of Arthur and Guinevere), it doesn’t quite come off.
But, still, there is much to enjoy. The cast is uniformly professional. Miguel Martinez’s fight choreography is clever and often thrilling. The set design is a strong point, with effective use of moving set pieces and a cyclorama that convincingly creates the feel of a magical kingdom. The knights of the round table dance and mug with enthusiasm and provide some charming comic moments.
The musical elements are well served and lovers of the score will certainly leave the theatre singing their favorite melodies with enthusiasm.
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“Camelot”, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Lowe, produced by the San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Bill English. Music Director: Dave Dobrusy. Set: Nina Ball. Sound: Brendan Aanes. Fight Choreography: Miguel Martinez. Dance Choreography: Steven Shear. Lighting: Michael Desch. Costumes: Abra Berman. Properties: Karlie Baufman.
Musicians—Keyboard: Ben Price, Michael Anthony Schuler, Dave Dobrusky. Trumpet: Jason Park, Matthew DePaquale, David Campbell. Guitar: Mathias Minquet.
Cast—Merlyn/Pelinore: Charles Dean. Young Mordred/Tom: Eli Clarke Nichols and Calum John. King Arthur: Johnny Moreno. Guenevere: Monique Hafen. Sir Dinadan: Rudy Guerrero. Sir Gwilliam: George P. Scott. Sir William: Robert Moreno. Nimue (in video): Julia Belanoff. Lancelot: Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Sir Sagramore: Steven Shear. Lady Anne: Michelle Drexler. Sir Lionel: Ken Brill. Lady Sybil: Simone Olsen-Varela. Sir Jasper: Stewart Kramar. Lady Fira: Adrienne Walters. Mordred: Paris Hunter Paul. Understudy/Male Swing: John Paul Gonzales.
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