Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Camelot and The Loudest Man on Earth
Camelot and I go a long way back, to the openings of the epic musical at the Majestic Theatre in New York on December 3, 1960, with Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, Robert Goulet as Lancelot, and an evil Rodney McDowell as Mordred. All of productions I've seen have been full of pomp and circumstance.
Bill English has taken away this glittering effect, and it is now more gothic. Camelot still revolves around the penetrating love triangle between King Arthur, Guenevere and Sir Lancelot. However, it is now set in a darker world with knights looking like gothic bikers with clubs, Guenevere as an angry goth, and Lancelot as a religious fanatic. Arthur is now a dreamer with crazy ideas and Mordred a budding Richard III. Does it work? Sure it does, creating a different and exciting night of musical theatre.
The gorgeous songs of Lerner and Loewe, such as "If Ever I Would Leave You," "I Loved You Once in Silence" and the title song, are still there and they are gloriously sung by Johnny Moreno as King Arthur and Monique Hafen as Guenevere. Music Director Dave Dobrusky perfectly leads an orchestra behind the set.
Nina Ball's set of medieval castle walls that turn on several turntables is a masterwork, with effective use of moving set pieces on a revolving stage. Abra Berman's costumes are both extraordinary and inventive and Miguel Martinez's fight choreography is imaginative. Micah J. Stieglitz' projections are outstanding.
Monique Hafen is perfect as Guenevere. She is mellifluous singing "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and very entertaining with "Then You May Take Me to the Fair." Johnny Moreno makes a more compassionate king and has a powerful voice singing "Camelot" and "How to Handle a Woman." His diction is flawless and his speeches on Arthur's strong desire to make laws and not wars are well presented. The last scene when Arthur meets young Tom of Warrick, played charmingly by Eli Clarke Nichols, is remarkably accomplished.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia (1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Rent) with an impressive voice delights the audience when entering for the first time singing "C'est Moi." He has an astounding voice that one cannot forget. Charles Dean gives terrific performances as Merlyn and later as Pellinore, with a droll sense of humor giving the production much needed comic relief. Paris Hunter Paul as Mordred has great vocal cords singing "The Seven Deadly Virtues." He seems more like a spoiled brat than an evil person ready to overthrow King Arthur.
Rudy Guerrero, Stewart Kramar, Robert Moreno, George P. Scott and Steven Shear as the gothic bikers all give energy-driven performances. Michelle Drexler, John Paul Gonzalez, Simone Olsen-Varela and Adrienne Walters round out the large cast and give first rate performances.
Camelot runs at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, 2nd floor of Kensington Park Hotel between Powell and Mason, San Francisco through September 14th. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.
Coming up next will be the world premiere Sandbox Series featuring Grounded starring Lauren English August 15 through September 7 at the A.C.T. Costume Shop, 1119 Market Street, San Francisco.
This eccentric love story centers on Jordan (Adrian Blue), a deaf, temperamental maverick stage director who becomes involved in an uncertain romance with hearing, charismatic journalist Haylee (Julie Fitzpatrick). The play explores aspects of hearing and deaf culture, with sympathy at the core in these characters. In their little world it is humorous, endearing, romantic and sweet. However, their world rattles and shakes up when it collides with the hearing and deaf worlds, such as an instance when Jordan becomes angry at Haylee's friend (Cassidy Brown), who Jordan believes is making fun of sign language. Haylee becomes furious at Jordan's defensiveness, saying that it makes it difficult for them to acquire friends.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the piece was the use of silent monologuesbrief, voiceless solos by Jordan, indicating his point of view of the events. Those who don't speak sign language may have found it difficult to know all of what he is saying.
Julie Fitzpatrick was superb as the journalist Haylee. She adroitly conveyed both Haylee's thoughts and her translation of what Jordan has signed. Adrian Blue (who is deaf) gave a splendid performance as the nonconformist stage director. Both actors circumnavigated the play's complicated layers of communication with humor and elegance as they communicated through a mixture of languages including English, American Sign Language and mime.
Cassidy Brown and Mia Tagano played a dizzying assortment of bit parts. They represented the hearing world with such depth and character that it made it hard to believe they were played by the same two people.
Director Pamela Berlin did a tremendous job with this gathering of events, none of which seemed improbable or fragmented. The play is full of humor and pathos. In a word, this was a beautiful production. Tanya Finkelstein devised character-perfect costumes while Jason Simms' set design of moving white walls was very effective.
The Loudest Man on Earth closed on August 4th at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. Coming up next for TheatreWorks is Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities opening on August 21 and running through September 15 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets call 650-463-1960 or online at www.theatreworks.org.