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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 16, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Camelot’ at Paper Mill
It has taken me 42 years to finally figure out what
is really wrong with "Camelot," that formidable hulk of a
musical misadventure that Lerner and Loewe conjured up to follow their
1956 hit show "My Fair Lady." Perhaps I was once tranquilized
into submission by the musical’s ravishing chorus-enhanced score,
as well as by its attempt to give the fantasy world a blend of both
poignancy and self-mockery. It is only after Act 1, approximately
90 minutes during which nothing of any consequence happens, that "Camelot"
becomes more than an elephantine bore.
Director Robert Johanson last staged this pageant of aggrandizing
posing and posturing for the Paper Mill in 1991. For an encore, he
as done what he supposes is the best way to see beyond the massive
medieval trappings (courtesy of set designer Michael Anania), and
the weighty dullness of Alan Jay Lerner’s depressing and numbing book
(based on "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White).
Time and perhaps desperation has evidently spurred Johanson to enforce
a kind of declamatory edge to the dialogue, and to encourage the characters,
all of whom parade around in Thom Heyer’s opulently detailed costumes,
to be animated to a fault. As a result, you will see the results of
a clarion call for over-the-top theatrics that hasn’t been endorsed
or employed since "The Black Crook," appeared over a century
ago. For those, however, who remain satisfied with glorious melodic
songs and resonant voices that give them wings, "Camelot"
still offers a lot.
A towering tree, its outstretched limbs leaning across the foreground
of a hilltop from the crest of which we see the not-too-distant turreted
outline of Camelot. This sight will give you instant recourse from
the introductory scene’s dramatic absurdity in which Arthur (Brent
Barrett) is tutored for the last time by his retiring mentor, the
magician Merlin (played with blustery charm by George S. Irving).
Irving, a venerable trouper, is required to bring many a turgid scene
to life and does so later when he re-appears as the befuddled Pellinore.
Arthur’s first encounter with his beautiful and conspicuously lusty
bride-to-be Guenevere (Glory Crampton) includes way too much tiresome
cavorting around the tree, before they are finally escorted off to
Soon enough the tree is replaced by a resplendent "Unicorn Tapestry"
which graces the back wall of Arthur’s study, a place where the profound
question "What Do The Simple Folk Do," is posed by the now
married couple. But save your "oohs" and "ahs" for
a garland-festooned park during "The Lusty Month of May" and
a flower-entwined swing that somehow didn’t interest Guenevere enough
to give it a try. I mean, when did you ever see a damsel who wasn’t
inclined to swing a little? Another diversion for the eyes that leads
to nothing of any consequence includes Arthur and Guenevere’s choral-infused
wedding procession and ceremony in a great candle-lit hall.
It really is not until Act II, when we become privy to the machinations
of the troublemaker Mordred and Morgan Le Fey, his evil sorceress
of a mother, that there is potential for a plot to brew in `Camelot.’
Of course, there is the hanky-panky that we are told is going on between
Guenevere and Lancelot (Matt Bogart), although that, like everything
else that might interest us in the show, seems to be happening off-stage.
There is, however, some respite from the torpor in the show-saving
performance by the Scotch-brogue-d Barrett Foa. It’s almost as if
a character from Lerner and Loewe’s "Brigadoon" were awakened
from his 100-year sleep and brought in as an Act II savior. As the
vilified Mordred, Foa’s energized doom and gloom turns — "The
Seven Deadly Virtues" and "Fie on Goodness" — persuade
those muscle-flexing clanking Knights, that overthrowing King Arthur
may not be such a bad idea.
Barrett transforms credibly from a state of arrested adolescence into
a more musing and majestic adult. But there are precious few moments
to enjoy him as he becomes the touching and visibly lost King of his
ill-fated Camelot when destiny and the plot, such as it is, suddenly
thrusts manhood upon him. As Lancelot, the comely Bogart dashes about
awkwardly in his buffed golden armor. In what might be referred to
as a characterization, Bogart finds a gesture to match every note
as he gingerly dishes out the ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You"
to Crampton’s easily beguiled Guenevere. But, what is one to do with
a show in which even F. Mitchell Dana’s luminous lighting begs more
attention than anything that is either sung or spoken. That is except
for Mordred’s witty line: "Camelot, where the tables are round
and the relationships are triangular."
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $30 to $67. To May 18.
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