Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of The Musical of Musicals
Like My Fair Lady, the show that opened the 2007-2008 season at the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Across America in Cincinnati, the second subscription series entry is also a Lerner & Loewe classic: Camelot. While the two shows share a pedigree of glorious songs, the weaker book for Camelot prevents the show from reaching the level of excellence achieved by My Fair Lady. The current national tour of Camelot boasts a worthwhile cast, design and direction. And, fans of the piece will likely want to hear the newly revised book, which has mixed results.
Camelot is the tale of King Arthur, the sixth century English king who sought to form a group of noble knights who, as the Knights of the Round Table, would usher in a new order of honor and chivalry. The story centers on a love triangle of Arthur, his wife Guenevere and a brave and handsome knight named Sir Lancelot, and the threat that these relationships pose to the idyllic existence that the king has built.
The romantic, intelligent and often humorous lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner are a perfect fit for Frederick Loewe's lush and gorgeous melodies. "If Ever I Would Leave You," Lancelot's vow of undying devotion to Guenevere, is a gorgeous example of the songsmiths' work. Other song highlights include "Simple Joys of Maidenhood," "How To Handle A Woman" and the title number.
The book for Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner has historically been criticized as unbalanced, with act one representing a romantic musical comedy and the second act being considerably darker in dramatic tone. The piece presents elements of romance, adventure, fantasy, morality, historical perspective and drama. The language that Mr. Lerner uses is exquisitely beautiful, and the show's messages about peace, justice and questioning the rationale for war are as timely now as they ever were. For this tour, changes have been made by Lerner's children, producer Liza Lerner and playwright Michael Lerner. Songs have been moved or shortened, the dialogue streamlined, and several plot points are now staged rather than merely referenced to in order to enhance the storytelling. While some of the changes may in fact benefit the piece, the show still plods along far too slowly in spots, and continues to lack a cohesive tone.
As King Arthur, Lou Diamond Phillips delivers his many speeches and dialogue with charisma and style, and properly makes the character a likeable yet uncertain leader and dreamer. Mr. Phillips is an unsteady vocalist at best, so it's wise that he talk-sings most of the score. Rachel de Benedet is an exuberant, sarcastic and poignant Guenevere, and displays a wonderful singing voice. CCM grad Matt Bogart gives Lancelot (the bold, brave, eternally confident and only slightly dim knight) a nicely detailed emotional arc often missed in the role. Mr. Bogart maintains his French accent consistently throughout, and possesses a strong and pleasant singing voice. Eric Anderson is an over-the-top and mystical Merlyn. Shannon Stoeke is appropriately corrupt as Mordred, and Time Winters is an excellent comic foil as Pellinore. The ensemble provides fine support in every respect.
Director Glenn Casale does a nice job of staging the action scenes, and conveys a solid understanding of the material. However, the show seems a bit lifeless at times, and there are also a few spots of melodramatic overkill. The few dances supplied by choreographer Dan Mojica are sufficient.
Designer John Iacovelli deserves kudos for a visually pleasing set, including several beautiful tapestries, that walks the careful line between realism and fantasy. Marcy Froehlich's costumes likewise are attractive and fit well in the design concept. Tom Ruzika provides appropriate mood-enhancing lighting.
The national tour of Camelot is likely to please most theatergoers, but it's not the exciting theatrical experience that aptly describes other shows currently crisscrossing the country. The solid cast and splendid songs compensate for a weaker storyline that's been tweaked for this production. The show continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through November 25, 2007. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.-- Scott Cain