Also see Susan's review of As You Like It
The production of Camelot now at the Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, is impressive and entertaining, if not a completely satisfying version of this ungainly show. Director-choreographer Stephen Nachamie has cut Alan Jay Lerner's legendarily wordy book down to two and a half hours through the excision of one musical number ("Fie on Goodness!") and the trimming of several scenes and songs.
People who think of Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1960 musical retelling of the legend of King Arthur likely envision the young, idealistic king as the handsome, charismatic Richard Burton (in the Broadway production) or Richard Harris (in the movie)or, for that matter, as John F. Kennedy. Nachamie tries a different perspective, emphasizing Arthur's youth and innocence: as played by Todd Alan Johnson, the king is prematurely balding, not especially physically well coordinated, and not at all ready to rule without the guiding hand of Merlyn (Bill Largess), a wizard both wise and unimaginably oldbut getting younger. Arthur does love Guenevere (Patricia Hurley), but he tends to live more in his ideals than in the real world, which leads to consequences he tries to avoid.
Hurley also demonstrates that Guenevere is not at all the cool, cultured lady one might think. Where Julie Andrews smoothed over the character's rough edges, Hurley plays her as willful and self-centered, wanting to be the heroine of a romance with a distinctly bloody subtext. (She sings: "Shall I not be on a pedestal, worshipped and competed for? Not be carried off or, better still, cause a little war?") She grows up, of course, and that is a major theme of the musical.
Aaron Ramey offers the best singing voice in the cast as Lancelot, the role that introduced Robert Goulet to the world. Ramey ably shows the two sides of Lancelot's personality: the sanctimonious faith in his own virtue that provokes anger among the rest of Arthur's knights, and the internal conflict that arises when circumstances bring him together with Guenevere.
Bill Largess gets laughs both as Merlyn and as the dotty King Pellinore, friend and advisor to Arthur. Evan Casey is a spiky-haired, waspish Mordred, gleefully spreading discontent among the knights of the Round Table. And the ensemble does well with Loewe's soaring melodies, with strong support from the six-piece orchestra conducted by Christopher Youstra.
Scenic designer Jeremy W. Foil has created a minimalist set that evokes medieval architecture with a few arches and sturdy pieces of furniture. Eric Propp's costumes add the necessary color and pomp to the production.
Olney Theatre Center