In this Camelot, Phillipa Soo has a voice that is liquid gold. The orchestra is (nearly) uncovered and lead by Kimberly Grigsby who makes it a point to lean over the small barrier separating her from the audience to chat up folks in the front row. And when the orchestra is not dazzling you with their splendid work there is always the set and projections by Michael Yeargan and 50 Productions respectively.
That’s what it all amounts to in a nutshell.
Honestly, I don’t know why this story was calling out to Aaron Sorkin to be rewritten, because in the re-working much of the myth disappears, and what is theater without the magic of myth? In this production Merlin ((Daikin Matthews) is robbed of his foresight and hindsight and is gone before we figure out who he is. The haunting “Follow Me” is plucked from the narrative and we are left with a bare bones story that never quite stands up as tall as it should. This production is “Camelot Light” which is too bad because at its core it is a universal tale of how hope can lead to calamity and still not surrender its soul. Camelot is a noble tale that deserves a noble telling.
So smoothed out has the story become that the actors – admirable all – can do little more than stay afloat. This Arthur (Andrew Burnap) is wry and funny, making jokes even before a jousting match in which anyone could end up dead or wish they had. There is an occassional metion of the revolutionay principles of the Round Table (“might for right”, etc.) but these don’t stick to your ribs. Guenevere (Phillipa Soo) is a medieval feminist who takes no prisoners. Period. Jordan Donica as Lancelot moves under a cloud of obedience and devotion to the King that is so gloomy it is a wonder he can sing (which he can and very well). The only character who seems at home in his skin is Pellinore (Daikin Matthews returns thank goodness) whose relationship to reality is tenuous and refreshing.
The enemy in the form of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Taylor Trensch), instead of being the true source of evil that will sink the ship, is a weasely brat reminiscent of any one of a number of Congressional Representatives. His mother Morgan Le Fey (Marilee Talkington) is introduced as a scientist who reveals the future for no real reason except to keep Arthur away from the castle just long enough for Guenevere and Lancelot to surrender to one another.
As I said, the music is superb, the visual elements are astonishing, and these actors acquit themselves. For me what was missing was the gravitas and danger of the situation. We are alking treason here, folks. Guenevere and Lancelot’s love affair seems to pop up like a piece of toast when it arrives. And it is only in the very very very last moments of the tale (just before a war that may kill the king) that we discover that Arthur and Guenevere loved each other from the moment they met.
Had we known that, had we seen, had we felt that love – well then the betrayal would have been tangible and broken each of our hearts. As it is, we remain interested but not concerned. Not the intended outcome, but there it is.
Camelot — Book: Aaron Sorkin, based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner; Music: Frederick Loewe; Director: Bartlett Sher
WITH: Andrew Burnap, Phillipa Soo, Jordan Donica, Dakin Matthews, Taylor Trensch, Marilee Talkington, with Camden McKinnon, Anthony Michael Lopez, Fergie Philippe, Danny Wolohan
Sets Michael Yeargan, Projections 59 Projections; Costumes Jennifer Moeller; Lighting Lap Chi Chu; Musical Direction Kimberly Grigsby
Running time: 2 hr 50 min (including intermission)
Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center; TICKETS HERE