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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

the castle.

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

Camelot, Paper Mill, Brookside Drive, Millburn,

973-376-4343. $30 to $67. To May 18.

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