Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This musical has never been a favorite of mine. I'd only seen it live once before, the Broadway production on tour starring William Squire and Kathryn Grayson, but I have seen several of the major presentations via video and TV. That book by Alan Jay Lerner has some unfocused storytelling, subplots which are never properly developed, incidents from Arthur's past which are introduced by his remembering them, but the grandeur required of a musical about the court of King Arthur is there. The Lee version, as performed here, concentrates the audience's attention on the love triangle of Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot du Lac, but sometimes feels at odds with the score, which is emotionally big, as befits authors' original concept. And it is the score that keeps bringing people back to this musical, the title song, "If Ever I Would Leave You," "How to Handle a Woman," and "I Loved You Once in Silence" among its best known songs. "Then You May Take Me to the Fair" and "Fie on Goodness," excised from the Broadway production early in the run, are reinstated here while "Follow Me" and "Before I Gaze at You Again" are MIA.
The cast is solid. Nick Duckart makes for an extremely handsome King Arthur, but he is unable to fully project the great king he grows into after early scenes depicting his boyishness. Sporting a full beard does not help the audience see the boy early on. Britney Coleman, returning to Asolo after a well received Marian in The Music Man, is a terrific Guinevere, showing the kittenish girl early on and the passionately in love woman later. Joseph Grayson, presumably no relationship to Kathryn, plays Lancelot, capturing the impressive physical strengths. He sings very well, but I would prefer a deeper baritone rather than the baritenor so in vogue in musical theater today. Levin Valayil, John Rapson, and Joseph Torello play all the required small roles with energy and fine voices. Rapson is a truly menacing Mordred, especially in his song "The Seven Deadly Virtues."
There are compromises in the staging for the safety of the actors, all of which are forgivable, but I wish Rosenthal had made it clearer in the penultimate scene that Lancelot and Guinevere do kiss and that she is captured while he gets away. That this production gets onto the stage at all is an amazing feat.
The bigger problem for me is the decision to costume all in modern dress (David Covach and Dee Sullivan). It is yet another strike against grandeur. Ethan Vail's lighting and Aaron Rhyme's projections make this as theatrical as possible in these very trying times. This is an Actors' Equity Association approved production.
So, for those who are starved for theater that doesn't come at us via our computer or television screen, Camelot is in town and Asolo Rep is leading the way showing other companies across the country how it can be done.
Camelot runs through April 1, 2021, at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Terrace Stage, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For information and tickets, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.