Camelot — Music Theater Works (10/21/22)

The version of Camelot currently being produced by Musical Theater Works is an experiment in evolving old-school musicals. Other productions of Camelot that I have seen have always involved large casts and long run times. In fact, a 2012 staging by Light Opera Works (which became Music Theater Works several years ago) ran over three hours despite cutting “Fie on Goodness!”—one of my favorite songs. The current version playing at the Center for Performing Arts in Skokie is just under two hours and features a minimal cast of just nine actors.

The origins of this version of Camelot date back to 2014, when New York director David Lee revised the script condensing almost all of the exposition to sentences narrated by various cast members. The philosophy is that the strength of Camelot is the songs by Lerner and Loewe, while its original book (also by Lerner) is bogged down with too much Arthurian lore. Does this version work? Yes, in many ways it does.

Christine Mayland Perkins (Guenevere) and the rest of the cast minus Arthur and Lancelot perform “The Lusty Month of May.”

Beginning with some strengths, Christine Mayland Perkins as Guenevere has fantastic comic timing. Many of her lines reflect a character who is amused by the chivalry of the Middle Ages, quietly laughing at those knights who take themselves too seriously. As Arthur, Michael Metcalf brings a deep voice to the role that helps to establish his authority as a notably young and idealistic king. Regarding the entire cast, a central premise is that this staging is a throwback to the traveling troops that were the basis for drama back in Arthur’s time. This allows for non-traditional casting decisions including Nathe Rowbotham as Lancelot. He is not the physically imposing actor that is often chosen for Lancelot, but he does have a strong voice for performing “C’est Moi” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

Tommy Thurston (Sir Lionel), Parker Guidry (Mordred) & Sarah Patin (Sir Dinadin) perform “Fie on Goodness!”

The best embodiment of how David Lee’s adaptation works seamlessly occurs in the second act. Parker Guidry is exceptional as Mordred, a role which often leads to scene stealing. Credit costume designer Martha Shuford for Mordred’s black kilt, which is a perfect blend of Camelot’s intended time period with contemporary influences. Usually, Mordred sings “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and then about 20 minutes pass before he leads the rousing “Fie on Goodness!” In this version, the songs flow back-to-back and none of the omitted action or character development is missed. The payoff is showing just how quickly Mordred and his lethal influence can collapse of all of the principles Arthur has struggled to create. In fact, “Fie on Goodness!” with just four actors is a surprise highlight. The disdain of the frustrated knights is reflected well in the facial expressions and voices of just three knights played by Sarah Patin (Dinadin), Hannah Mary Simpson (Sagramore), and Tommy Thurston (Lionel).

Walking into Camelot, I did not know I would be viewing a musical with a revised book. My first clue was when Arthur narrated that Merlin had disappeared following his enchantment by the nymph Nimue, a scene which is usually dramatized on stage and ends with the powerful moment when Merlin exclaims that he forgot to warn Arthur about Lancelot and Mordred. Some of the emotions behind the love triangle powerful enough to destroy a kingdom are similarly lost in abridgment; however, so are the unnecessary comic scenes involving Sir Pellinore. While I missed aspects of the longer Camelot, this experiment proves that older works can evolve in ways that make them more feasible for smaller companies to produce. Also, if I could make one suggestion to all future productions of Camelot, it would be to slow down “If Ever I Would Leave You.” One of the most enduring love songs in all of musical theater wizzes by in barely over two minutes, which is simply not enough time.

Camelot runs through November 13 at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts in Skokie. Also of note is Music Theater Works’ 2023 season, which features the rare combination of 5 always enjoyable musicals: Avenue Q, Pippin, The Producers, Brigadoon, and Shrek: the Musical.
Camelot — Music Theater Works (10/21/22)

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