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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
For the most part, director David Lee's thrify and streamlined adaptation of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot goes a long way toward taming an unwieldy beast. The veteran director, who routinely works both at the Pasadena Playhouse and Reprise, has red-penned the Knights of the Round Table musical down to its barest essentials: a noble dream brought to ruin by an inevitable love triangle. Using but eight actors and stripped down scenery and costumes, Lee has made this Pasadena Playhouse production the Arthur/Jenny/Lance show.
Unless one nurses nostalgia for, say, King Pellinore's hunt for the Questing Beast, Lee's revision (approved by the Lerner and Loewe estates and destined to be adopted by budget conscious houses) isn't necessarily a bad thing. This pocket sized Camelot trips merrily along its way, dropping in all of the musical favorites and re-inserting a few numbers that have long since been dropped. Lee has cast well; his three leads are plenty appealing and his supporting five as technically skilled as they are versatile.
The stakes don't always feel so especially high when you go this lean. While we don't miss extraneous knight, armor and townspeople, it's difficult to feel that the fate of a kingdom hangs in the balance when Camelot is depicted by a framed photograph of a castle and everyone is walking around looking like Banana Republic has hastily outfitted them for a local Renaissance Faire. Sue me, but I also long for a wench or two, someone who might catch morally perfect Lancelot's eye or serve as a bit of grist for the number "Fie on Goodness."
Certainly Shannon Stoeke's Arthur believes every idealistic syllable that falls from his lips as a King looking to take the might out of kingship. Stoeke is young (bravo that). His goatee is on the peach fuzzy side and his queasiness over an arranged marriage dissipates instantly when he sets eyes on luscious and lusty Guenevere (Shannon Warne). When we see an older and wearier Arthur trying to teach his illegitimate son Mordred (Will Bradley) a thing or to about honor, we realize that Stoeke has taken us into the King's middle age without any uncomfortable leaps. Plus, with that smile, he could charm the bark off one of those skeletal trees.
Doug Carpenter's Lancelot employs those pretty boy good looks and that forceful baritone to equally good effect. The guy doesn't know there's a problem with being perfect, and "C'est Moi" is one of musical theater's great unintentionally comic ego songs. Lee treats the forbidden Lance/Jenny liaison with care, allowing Carpenter and Warne to infuse it with the sparks it deserves. And unlike in previous incarnations, he leaves no doubt as to whether the two characters get it on. My kingdom, however, for a Lance who will pick an accent, English or French, and stay with it both for song and speech.
In appearance, Warne's dark haired Jenny suggests a cleaner, less sullied version of Man of La Mancha's Dulcinea. Here's a lass who is clearly at her ease among the boys, and can flirt freely and without danger in "Then You May Take me to the Fair," and she's got a lovely lilting soprano to bring it home. In this number Sir Lionel (Zachary Ford), Sir Dinadan Richard R. Segall), and Sir Sagramore (Andrew Ross Wynn) are all game. Whoever gets her, this Jenny is a prize worth winning.
With the story so tightly focused, Bradley's Mordred has little to do beyond smirking like a malevolent pixie at Arthur and ultimately leading the I am evil anthem, "The Seven Deadly Virtues,"" (which is often cut). Musical Director Christy Crowl's orchestra gets an occasional boost from the players who lend a violin or a drum. Whatever else one may say about the piece's potential datedness (and, indeed, a Camelot in the age of Obama feels appropriate) the music still resonates. "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and "are a pair of sprightly numbers that give Jenny some character definition. Budding Goulets can always test their mettle on "If Ever I Would Leave You" and it's still all but impossible to leave the theater without the title anthem, "Camelot," rattling through your brain.
I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but this largely knight free Camelot gets it right.