Music by Frederick Loewe
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Gary Griffin
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Musical direction by Rick Fox
Performed by Geraint Wyn Davies, Brent Carver, Kaylee Harwood, Johathan Winsby, et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
April 16 to October 30, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Camelot – Near Utopia
Camelot, the musical on the Festival Stage at Stratford this season, opens with young Wart becoming King Arthur right before our eyes, under the tutelage of Merlyn. First we see the future king as a hawk, flying from Merlyn’s arm into a tree. Then little Wart is running around the stage, followed by increasingly older Arthurs until he, as an adult, he is the reluctant King awaiting his bride.
While both Arthur and Guenevere are an unwilling to accept their arranged marriage at first, they soon fall in love and strive to make Camelot a civilized and perfect place to live. Together, they plan the round table where all the knights will be equal and chivalrous. In fact, such is the reputation of the Knights of the Round Table, that Sir Lancelot hears about it in France and comes to join. While Lancelot admires Arthur and vows to serve him, he also falls in love with Guenevere. At first, Guenevere is annoyed by the self-righteous Lancelot, but then succumbs to his charm.
In Act II, the perfect society starts to crumble. Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred comes to destroy Camelot and take over the kingdom. Mordred realizes that there is a growing relationship between Lancelot and Guenevere, and uses his knowledge of this hypocrisy to destroy Camelot. Guenevere is nearly burned at the stake, when Lancelot takes her away, and war ensues. The utopian society is destroyed, but in the end Arthur sees hope for the next generation.
From the magical opening, with the well-trained hawk fluttering to the tree top, we know that Merlyn, the wizard is in control. Brent Carver plays Merlyn until he is spirited away by Nimue, and then he plays Pellinore, handling both parts perfectly. Carver makes these two characters the stars of the show. First he is the fascinating and mysterious Merlyn, and then he provides all the humour as the elderly Pellinore.
Geraint Wyn Davies is excellent as Arthur, although in the tradition of Camelot he talk-sings some of the songs. Stratford newcomer Kaylee Harwood is a sweet Guenevere and sings beautifully. Jonathan Winsby is a perfect Lancelot, presenting “C’est Moi” with the right touch of humour and does justice to the showstopper “If Ever I Would Leave You”. Mike Nadajewski plays an entertaining but angry Mordred; perhaps he should be more devious and conniving. Monique Lund as Nimue sings in the most beautiful bell-like clear voice.
Credit goes to choreographer Warren Carlyle for the amazing dance in the “Lusty Month of May”. Julius Sermonia steals the scene with countless pirouettes. The set, including the beautiful floor and colourful costumes add to the beauty of Camelot.
A few puzzling changes were made in this production. The song “Fie on Goodness” is presented at the beginning of Act II, before we even meet Mordred. This song is usually the means by which Mordred stirs up the knights and gets them to turn against Arthur. Without Mordred leading it, it doesn’t have the same impact.
The song “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” has been cut. This humourous number usually shows Guenevere’s flirtation with the knights and sets the scene for the jousting match that follows – without it, the plot suffers a little. On the other hand, the song “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” seems long and could have been shortened to advance the story.
At the opening night production, no dog appeared on stage, although there is one listed in the program. Perhaps the well-behaved hawk in the opening scene is enough live creature to handle.
Unfortunately, some of the material is showing its age: “How to Handle a Woman” is a little grating, and the attempt at humour when Guenevere wants to be ravaged no longer seems funny.
Nevertheless, Camelot is still a worthwhile piece of history; it gives us pause to think of more chivalrous times. It also harkens back to the early 1960s when we thought the world was a better place. For musical theatre fans, this Camelot is near Utopia.
Camelot continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until October 30. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.