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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Camelot

Camelot
Kimberly Burns, Hayden Tee, Noble Shropshire
One of the last of Broadway's Golden Age musicals, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Camelot was based on a portion of T.H. White's tales of the legendary King Arthur, The Once and Future King. The musical itself became legendary due to the trail of misfortune on the way to production, including death (original costume designer Adrian), marital (Lerner) and health problems (Lerner and Hart), not to mention the more typical challenges of a new musical: title changes, trimming (measured in hours, not minutes), and multiple directors. What it didn't have was a problem with the original cast (led by Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowell). It also had a beautiful score, some timely television exposure, and eventually, an identification with the Kennedys. If the piece seems to change personality at intermission, it remains a very satisfying and moving musical. As the show is not often produced, the Pittsburgh Public Theater production is a welcome one, though it has its own unevenness.

After the Prologue shows that the King and Camelot are in profound turmoil, the stage quickly turns back six years, and we see the meeting ("meeting cute" it would be called now) of King Arthur (Hayden Tee) and his soon-to-be Queen, Guenevere (Kimberly Burns). Through song and prose we follow the pair's romance, Arthur's revolutionary development of the Round Table of knights, and his shift in focus from violence to chivalry, the "fight for right," honor and justice. When Frenchman Lancelot (Keith Hines) arrives, his self-assurance causes Guenevere and the knights to dislike him, but Arthur takes to the young man in a paternal way. Lancelot soon wins everyone over, and a royal romantic triangle is quickly formed. Arthur is aware of the romance, but cares so deeply for both Lancelot and Guenevere that he takes no action, and the young couple resist a full-throttle affair. In act two, however, with the arrival of Mordred (Don DiGiulio), the evil illegitimate son Arthur didn't know he had, Arthur's hand is forced and he must do his kingly duty of ordering the sentence of burning at the stake for Lancelot and Guenevere. Arthur is soon at war, and he has lost the two people he loves most. The utopia-like Camelot, described so glowingly in the title song, is no more.

Since this is Arthur's story, it is our good fortune that this is where director Ted Pappas has done his best work (casting is credited to Mark Simon Casting): Hayden Tee gives a tremendously moving performance as the King. From young and idealistic to betrayed and broken (but not defeated), Tee sweeps the audience up in Arthur's journey. His singing is exemplary, bringing joy to "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight," pride to "Camelot," and humor to "How to Handle a Woman" and his second act duet with Guenevere, "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" It's a very rich performance, making the production one that is not to be missed, in spite of other performances that aren't at the same level.

Guenevere doesn't seem to be as comfortable a fit for Burns. She has a beautiful singing voice, and is a fine actor, but her Guenevere rests too strongly on the self-centered and fickle aspects of the character, and her accent seems intentional rather than natural. Hines fits the physical requirements of Lancelot: fresh-faced, handsome and strong. But, though he has a pleasant singing voice, he does not take hold of his big song, "If Ever I Would Leave You," in the strong and emotional way he should. And his facial expression changes little, though his accent does frequently. The character of Mordred must be a tough one—arrive late in the piece and be the resentful evildoer he must be - but DiGiulio is almost campy in his portrayal (moustache-twirling is the only thing missing). Perhaps he would have been able to stretch a bit more had the Morgan Le Fey subplot been retained.

There is a stand-out supporting player, however—Noble Shropshire as Arthur's friend King Pellinore, who comes to visit and never leaves. He's a bit of comic relief, but played so winningly, we're happy he's here.

The ensemble is game, talented, and well directed. And the heard but not seen orchestra, led by F. Wade Russo, does their part in allowing us to appreciate this gorgeous score.

James Noone's set and Kirk Bookman's lighting (they become one element) provide a stunning, realistic castle exterior and circular courtyard. Both designers display top-notch work here, and you can add Zach Moore's sound to that list, as it is a great success as well. The courtyard does brings limitations, mostly due to the small size of the O'Reilly's thrust stage, resulting in the cast too frequently running around in circles and leaping onto one of the three benches around the perimeter. However, audiences should be thankful Pappas does not let the size of the stage prevent him from presenting musicals that are larger than may be typically presented in a small venue. Alejo Vietti's costumes are rich and intricate; the design, construction and variety are simply fascinating.

Camelot plays the O'Reilly Theater through February 20. Like the show's original journey, this one is not perfect, but with a not-to-be-missed Arthur, a classic score, and a great story, it is well worth seeing. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.


Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater


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-- Ann Miner

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