What is it that made Lerner and Loewe’s CAMELOT such an enduring success? Certainly it’s Alan Jay Lerner’s brilliantly witty lyrics and, of course, the grandeur of the Arthurian legend… but what if you scaled the musical down to its essentials? The Lyric Stage does just that, using David Lee’s intimate adaptation of CAMELOT (playing through June 25th) which eliminates extraneous characters (including Merlin)!
Director Spiro Veloudos does with CAMELOT what he did with SWEENEY TODD a few seasons back, making it more focused, less grand (as in Guignol) and surprisingly resonant to today’s political and ethical climate. I couldn’t watch Lyric’s SWEENEY without thinking of the countless innocent men in this country, like the barber, wrongly convicted and sent to prison.
As I watched Veloudos’ streamlined, almost naturalistic CAMELOT, I concentrated on Arthur’s vision for equality in a “country of laws” (as opposed to the love story). Its corruption by a few self-serving traitors now stands out in sharp relief. You can’t help but consider our “nation of laws” being subverted and gerrymandered right out from under our feet.
So. What is enhanced in a production that is realistic… and what is lost? Matters of life and death are quite real in Veloudos’ inspired staging: When Lancelot (Jared Troillo) brings the very dead Sir Lionel (Davron S. Munroe) back to life, it’s not with his will, it’s with his whole being, as if he’s summoning up an exchange of life breath at the expense of his own existence. It’s quite a coup. It’s no wonder Arthur (Ed Hoopman) and Guenevere (Maritza Bostic) are both drawn to the man. (Veloudos’ characters are very much down to earth, with all of the mistakes mortals make, even the best of men.)
The broad humor for the most part is left behind. Lancelot’s pompous “C’est Moi” isn’t as overblown and riotous as it often is but Veloudos does allow some of the ruckus back in, with the anarchists in Act II. Not in life, mind you, but in art it’s often the bad guys who are most fascinating. Rory Boyd makes Mordred a charismatic, go for broke villain, with “The Seven Deadly Virtues” a delightful frolic, topped only by the delicious “Fie on Goodness” romp featuring Munroe’s lusty Scotsman. I must admit, it was exhilarating to have some passion back in CAMELOT.