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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Ohio Shakespeare Festival
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of The Loush Sisters Get Hard for the Holidays

Andrew Cruse and Pete Robinson
Photo by Scott Custer
It is surprising, but there are some Cleveland theater fans who are still unaware of Akron's own Ohio Shakespeare Festival, even though it has been in existence for fifteen years. What began as summer-only stagings of the Bard's plays at Stan Hywet Hall has now expanded to elaborate productions in their new winter home on the sixth floor of the Greystone Building at 103 S. High Street. Currently on stage is their most ambitious project to date, Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's Camelot, which includes two songs that were cut from the movie version that we are all too familiar with.

The show begins with a fight scene among four warriors, followed by Nimue's (Katie Zarecki) band of dancing water nymphs. This is followed by a short segment reenacting young Arthur's drawing out the sword from the stone thus becoming King of England.

It is the day that Arthur's (Andrew Cruse) betrothed, Guenevere (Natalie Green), is to arrive. This event finds Arthur hiding in a tree. Merlin (Pete Robinson) coaxes him down, but as Guenevere approaches he hides in the tree once more. Hearing her sing about being reluctant to marry simply to fulfill a treaty makes Arthur fall in love and come out of hiding. While singing the title song, he convinces Guenevere to stay and be his wife.

Arthur has big plans for the kingdom. The first is to rein in the knights and nobles who wage war on each other for sport. With Guinevere's suggestion, he designs a round table and comes up with a code of ethics that knights are to follow. All goes well until Sir Lancelot (Joe Pine) arrives from France. Lancelot is the perfect fit for a knight. He already follows a strict code of conduct, including purity from which he gets his fighting strength. Unfortunately, Guinevere falls for him and soon they are meeting in secret. Add to this the arrival of Mordred (Jason Leupold), Arthur's illegitimate son by his half sister. His goal is to bring Arthur and his kingdom down, making for an exciting second act.

This is a family-friendly show but with a length of nearly three hours (with intermission) it might be a tough sit for young children. Teens and young adults will appreciate it more.

With over a dozen full-scale singing numbers, elaborate costuming, fight scenes, and dance scenes, this show might be too overwhelming for companies of this size. But, this is no ordinary company, this is the Ohio Shakespeare Festival (aka, the little company that can!).

Andrew Cruse is a superb Arthur, using all that he has learned over the years as an OSF regular. He has a fine speaking and singing voice and is believable as the reluctant ruler who has the best interest of his subjects in mind. Natalie Green as Guenevere has the looks and the voice to pull off the role, plus the little bit of tart that plays men against each other, resulting in chaos in the kingdom. Joe Pine is the perfect Lancelot who sets hearts a flutter every time he goes on stage. His "If Ever I Would Leave You" had many women in the audience finding something in their eye at the end of the song. Also notable is Pete Robinson who brings Merlin to life with his strong resonant voice and fine acting skills. Lastly, Geoffrey Darling as King Pellinore (a family friend) adds the right touches of comic relief.

Of very special note is Marty LaConte whose costume designs defy description. They are the most elaborate seen on any stage in Northeast Ohio. Each actor or ensemble member is carefully dressed, emphasizing the grandeur of the production. Well done!

Mark Stoffer handles the lighting and sound duties with aplomb, filling the hall with well-balanced prerecorded tracks that are right on cue, while filling the stage with light. Sharing the director's title for this massive undertaking are Terry Burgler and Nancy Cates, who manage this talented cast by bringing out the best of their skills. Kudos also go out to fight director Ryan Zarecki who has choreographed exciting yet safe sequences.

While a bit of a drive from Cleveland, it is none the less well worth the trip to see this wonderful production of Lerner and Loewe's magical Camelot. Great singing, great acting, exciting sword fights, romance, intrigue, pathos and comedy make this a delightful evening at the theater. Fill the seats for this one.

Ohio Shakespeare Festival's Camelot, through December 17, 2017, at Greystone Hall, 103 S. High Street, Akron OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 888-718-4253.

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