Regional Reviews: Boston
The eleven-person ensemble of Lyric Stage Company's Camelot comes to us as a traveling troupe of storytellers, costumed in a hybrid of medieval and present-day garb, assembled to pass along the tale of King Arthur and his knights. These players take on the roles of the knights and ladies of Camelot, narrating the action and recounting for us the men who've retold the Arthurian legend over time, from Thomas Mallory all the way to Alan Jay Lerner (bookwriter and lyricist) and Frederick Loewe (composer).
The story that unfolds is a leaner retelling than we may be used to; this adaptation by David Lee slims the infamously overstuffed musical to a concise two hours and fifteen minutes. It's a more intimate and more effective Camelot. Though the Lyric Stage's mounting of this version, directed by Spiro Veloudos, isn't a transcendent production, there are a few brief, shining moments in store.
When Lerner and Loewe's musical originally opened in New York in 1960, they knew Camelot was running too long, and in a rare move for Broadway, significant cuts were made months after opening night. Various productions since then have wrestled with trimming Lerner's ambitious book, which tries to wed light comedy, epic romance, whimsy and tragedy into one cohesive story. David Lee, who created this new adaptation a few years ago, wisely distills the show to its essence: the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and Sir Lancelot. Nearly everything else has been sacrificed. Gone are all the fantasy charactersMerlin, Morgan Le Fay, and Nimue (along with her song "Follow Me")as well as Arthur's buffoonish chum Sir Pellinore. You won't miss them.
Wisely, Lee's reworking preserves most of the classic score. Lancelot now duets with Guenevere on what was originally her solo, "Before I Gaze at You Again," which helps to strengthen their illicit feelings for each other. Lee even finds room for two numbers cut during the original 1960 run: "Take Me to the Fair," where Guenevere coaxes three knights to challenge Lancelot to a joust; and "Fie on Goodness," a darkly comic number where those same knights renounce virtue in favor of depravity. (Unfortunately, the latter song feels more sexist than funny. Are we supposed to laugh at lyrics like "Virgins may wander unmolested"?)
Since this stripped-down Camelot focuses closely on the three leads and their fatal flaws that propel the kingdom toward its downfall, the burden falls on those actors to bring the show's passion and humanity to life. Even with Lee's shrewd cutsall sinews and muscle, no fatthe sharp tonal shift from satirical musical-comedy to eventual tragedy is unavoidable. Veloudos seems to have directed his cast not to play the lighter parts too broadly, perhaps with an eye on the darker second half. But the effect is that Ed Hoopman as Arthur and Maritza Bostic as Guenevere underplay their early scenes, and we don't sense much chemistry between them. The first few songs, with their chipper orchestrations, could use more gusto, even a gentle touch of absurdity. After all, this is a show where Arthur woos his bride by singing about the weather.
Happily, Hoopman is the right age for the boyish Arthur (thank Merlin). Though Richard Burton was 35 when he first essayed the part, the king seems to have become older and grayer each time this musical has resurfaced. Arthur's vision of a kingdom built on principles like "Might for Right" sparkles with the zest of youthfuland naiveidealism. Despite a flat start, Hoopman becomes more kingly as Arthur's weaknesses start to poke through his armor. He's effective in the fiery monologue that ends the first act, as he wars with his own anger and helplessness, ultimately resolving to live with Guenevere and Lancelot's affairwhatever the cost.
As Guenevere, Bostic is best at bringing out the queen's sly subversiveness, calmly manipulating knights to joust for her, and snidely submitting to her womanly duty (embroidery!), while Arthur gets to talk principles and politics. She doesn't really capture the impetuous side of Guenevere, who's despondent when we meet her, that no knight will shed blood over her again. (Be careful what you wish for.) And Bostic's singing isn't ideal, uneasy in her soprano register, so the queen feels tentative when she's meant to convey sensuality ("The Lusty Month of May") and heartbreak ("I Loved You Once in Silence").
Only Jared Troilo's Lancelot fully convinces. Though he's delightfully vainglorious, Troilo makes it clear that this "godliest man" is not the superhero he proclaims himself to be. This Lancelot seems to realize he's as human as the others, torn between his growing love for Guenevere and his sacred principles of virtue and purity. When Troilo finally delivers that big ballad, "If Ever I Would Leave You," he starts almost at a hush, like he's discovering these feelings for the first time as he's singing them. As he builds to a full-throated final verse, we're bewitched. Is it any wonder why the kingdom falls apart?
Camelot is presented at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston through June 25, 2017, at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA. Tickets can be purchased at lyricstage.com, by phone at (617) 585-5678, or in person at the Lyric Stage box office.
Cast: Ed Hoopman (King Arthur); Maritza Bostic (Queen Guenevere); Jared Troilo (Sir Lancelot); Rory Boyd (Mordred); Davron S. Monroe (Sir Lionel); Brad Foster Reinking (Sir Dinadan); Jeff Marcus (Sir Sagramore); Garrett Inman (Dap/Tom); Jordan Clark, Margarita Damaris Martinez, Kira Troilo (Ladies)
Creative Team: Director: Spiro Veloudos; Music Director: Catherine Stornetta; Choreography: Rachel Bertone; Scenic Design: Shelley Barish; Costume Design: Elisabetta Polito; Lighting Design: Karen Perlow; Sound Design: Elizabeth Cahill; Stage Combat Choreographer: J.T. Turner; Production Stage Manager: Robin Grady; Assistant Stage Manager: Nerys Powell