Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Sharon's review of 13
On the plus side, the cast assembled can get the job done. Rachel York is a lovely Guenevere; her clear and beautiful voice is a good match for the Lerner and Loewe score. She also does most of the heavy lifting in the production, acting-wise. She perfectly captures the light comedy of the young Queen's frustration at a forced marriage and her eager excitement for a big, romantic life where men actually fight over her. As the show progresses, York's Guenevere shows that she's the real brains in Camelot, and she eventually grows to learn the folly behind her childish dreams. As Lancelot, the French knight who comes between Guenevere and her King, James Barbour brings his big, deep voice to the party; his "If Ever I Would Leave You" is certainly a highlight. His "C'est Moi," dripping with false modesty, shows a more comical side. Barbour's French accent comes and goes (his speech is sometimes English and sometimes unaccented), but a bigger problem is that his character is largely cardboard; there's very little realism in what this silly knight thinks and does. Rounding out the trio is Michael York as Arthur. York's singing voice is largely serviceable (there are definitely a few missed notes), and his characterization is of an amiable, well-meaning King. Michael York's Arthur comes off as a decent guy who is charmed by both Guenevere and Lancelot.
Unfortunately, what they are given to work with doesn't entirely work. The production has set the bar incredibly high for itself; an article in the accompanying "L.A. Stage" magazine calls this Camelot's "most important revival ever." Director Glenn Casale believes that this particular reworking of the show, with additional materials by Michael Lerner, "will revolutionize the show." The article talks of an "intensity" in the new book, a concept in which the love triangle "is deeper than physical love" and the three lead characters are three sides of the same being.
It sounds good, but none of that is on the stage. In fact, instead of aiming for "important," Casale and company seem to have forgotten about making their production entertaining. The show opens strongly enough, but quickly gets bogged down in book-driven scenes. Anything that is meant to be a commentary for a nation at war earns at most a chuckle; there's nothing particularly insightful here. While the beauty of the show's songs cannot be denied, there isn't anything noteworthy in their staging - most numbers are sung directly to the audience or facing another character. There's a very small amount of dancing in "What Do The Simple Folk Do?" (and, here, Michael York's dancing is much better when he's moving his feet although remaining seated on a bench). "Lusty Month of May" is the only big production number, and there are (at most) about eight people dancing on the stage while everyone else cheerfully sings along. While this version has conveniently moved the first act sword fights onstage, the main action of the second act still takes place in the wings. The song "Guenevere" is used to tell what happens to Guenevere, while the cast runs back and forth across the stage to do whatever is actually happening someplace out of view. This "streamlined" version of the show, with musical numbers cut and stagings reimagined, just doesn't excite.
Comment must also be made about the sound quality at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The sound was turned up so loud as to not only make all vocal subtlety disappear, but the voices actually echoed - like you get when someone talks too loudly into a bad cell phone. Rachel York's microphone wasn't working at all in the first scene, leaving her to sing "Simple Joys of Maidenhood," and fall for Arthur, without amplification. While it was something of a challenge to hear her over the orchestra, she succeeded in putting the song across to the rear of the orchestra, and earned a huge ovation for it. It was almost preferable to strain to hear her unamplified voice, with all of its nuances, than to listen to overly loud, colorless sound through the microphones. When about all the production has going for it is the chance to hear Rachel York and James Barbour let loose their instruments on Lerner and Loewe's score, it is a shame that the bad amplification ruins even that.
Camelot continues at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through January 28. For tickets and information, see www.lamiradatheatre.com'.
McCoy Rigby Entertainment, Liza Lerner, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, Live Nations, Pittsburgh CLO / Van Kaplan, and Waxman Williams Entertainment in association with Dallas Summer Musicals / Michael A. Jenkins, and the Pelican Group present: Camelot -- Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe. Original Production Staged by Moss Hart. Additional Materials by Michael A.M. Lerner. Scenery Designed by John Iacovelli; Costumes Designed by Marcy Froehlich; Lighting Designed by Tom Ruzika; Sound Design by Julie Ferrin; Fight Direction by Sean Boyd; Aerial Sequences Designed by Paul Rubin; Tour Marketing and Press Anita Dloniak & Associations; Publicist David Elzer/Demand PR; Casting by Julia Flores; Wigs Designed by Mitchell Hale; Production Manager Gina Farina; General Management K Lee Harvey and McCoy Rigby Entertainment; Production Stage Manager Robert Levinstein; Orchestration & Musical Supervision/Direction, Vocal Arrangements & New Dance Music by Craig Barna; Choreography by Dan Mojica; Production Directed by Glenn Casale.
Photo by Craig Schwartz