Camelot Comes to San Jose
Lerner and Loewe's old warhorse musical drama Camelot comes to the San Jose Center for the Performing Art Center fresh from its opening at the La Mirada Theatre. This time around there is a more sympathetic and confused King Arthur, played by Michael York.
Camelot and I go a long way back, to the opening of the epic musical at the Majestic Theatre in New York on December 3rd, 1960, with a stellar cast of Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, Robert Goulet (who became an overnight sensation) as Lancelot, and an evil Rodney McDowell as Mordred. John Cullum made his Broadway debut in the show. Critics on the street called this long musical the "Parsifal of Broadway" due to its theme.
I saw Richard Burton a second time in the New York State Theatre production during the summer of 1980 with Christine Ebersole playing Guenevere, and a touring company came to San Francisco later with Burton again repeating the role. Another company came to our fair city in 1964 with Louis Hayward as the King and Kathryn Grayson as Guenevere. It was one of the only Broadway musicals to play in the San Francisco Opera House since the Curran Theatre could not accept the large sets. When working in Burbank in 1967 at the Warner studio I remember the filming of the musical on the set of the great hall that took up an entire soundstage. It was one of the biggest indoor sets ever built at that time.
Other actors have played the regal king, including Richard Harris who played at the Winter Garden Theatre during the winter of 1981 with Meg Bussert playing the queen. This was later televised with the same cast as part of the HBO Theatre series in 1982. It was the gayest version of the classic musical I've seen, and it made one wonder if the King and Lancelot (Richard Muenz) were the lovers. The last time New Yorkers saw the warhorse was in the summer of 1993 with Robert Goulet now playing the King and Patricia Kies playing his wife. Regent Park in London did an outdoor version in 2004, and the Hollywood Bowl installed a lot of humor with Jeremy Irons playing the King to Melissa Errico's Queen in 2005. From all indications, this is the production that should have toured.
Camelot will be making the rounds with the hope of coming back to New York. It is slated to be in San Diego in September. From what I saw on opening night, it will need some serious surgery to survive a commercial run in New York. Michael York does make a more compassionate king, even with his wobbly voice. He is able to traverse his way through the king's changing aspirations. His speeches on on this strong desire to make laws and not wars are well presented. He does have a beautiful, distinctive theatrical voice and his diction is flawless. His rendition of "How to Handle a Woman" is heartfelt. The last scene, when the King meets young Tom of Warwick (played charmingly by Travis Danz), is marvelously accomplished.
Rachel York is radiant as Guenevere and her voice overwhelms Michael York's in the duets. She is splendid on "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and very entertaining with "Then You May Take Me To the Fair." She has a vigorous sense of humor throughout the entire production.
James Barbour with a commanding voice thrills the audience when entering for the first time singing "C'est Moi." His voice has an astonishing force that one cannot forget. However, even when rendering with his amazing voice "If Ever I Should Leave You" in the second act, he looks very ill at ease in the production. I got the impression he would like to be somewhere else.
Shannon Stoeke as Mordred sounds like a young Anthony Newley when singing "The Seven Deadly Virtues." He seems more like a fey spoiled brat than an evil person ready to overthrow King Arthur. Time Winters as King Pellinore is enjoyable, with a droll sense of humor, giving the production much needed comic relief. Several songs (including "Fie on Goodness!" and "I Loved You Once in Silence") have been cut to shorten the production. However, it still runs two and half hours with one intermission.
Dan Mojica's choreography is sufficient with no outstanding dances. Sets by John Iacovelli are impressive, even with some of the flats on opening night coming down at the wrong time. The orchestra under the direction of Craig Barna is sprightly and manages to not drown out Michael York's weak singing voice. Julie Ferrin's fight direction is excellent, especially in the dueling matches between Lancelot and the knights in the first act.
Camelot is part of the American Musical Theatre of San Jose season and plays through February 11 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Boulevard, San Jose. For tickets call 1-888-455-SHOW (7469) or 408-453-7018 or visit www.amtsj.org.
AMT of San Jose's next production will be Smokey Joe's Café opening on April 10, 2007. The touring company of Dirty Rotten Scoundrelscome in on May 1st through May 13th.