Camelot: Many brief shining moments
Disclaimer: the reviewer’s son appears in this production
Book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Fredrick Loewe
Directed by Timothy French
Musical Direction by Stephen Woodjetts
Performed by Jayme Armstrong, Mark Harapiak, Gabriel Burrafato, William Fisher, Thomas Alderson, and company
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 8 – 25, 2009
Live! On Stage!
Review by Mary Alderson
It is said that John F. Kennedy loved the Broadway show Camelot. He asked that the cast recording be played throughout the White House. His short tenure as U.S. President has been compared to the kingdom of Camelot’s brief shining moment. In both cases, idyllic civilizations were destroyed by human weakness.
Camelot, now playing at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend, offers three shining hours of superior entertainment. Director Tim French and Musical Director Stephen Woodjetts have brought together a high-quality cast of great voices to tell this timeless musical story.
Young Arthur, nicknamed Wart, reluctantly becomes King of all England when he pulls the sword Excalibur out of the stone. He grows up at Camelot and resolves to build a utopian kingdom. When a marriage is arranged between Guenevere and Arthur, they are both nervous and shy, but soon fall in love. Camelot becomes the perfect place where by decree, it can only rain at night, and the amount of snow is regulated.
Arthur decides that rather than fighting, knights should be out doing good deeds. They gather at the round table (where there can be no jealously as all are equals) to come up with ways to improve civilization. When Lancelot hears about this in France, he travels to Camelot to join the Round Table. Lancelot is so self-righteous that Queen Guenevere mocks him, but she comes to appreciate his purity and they fall in love, even though they both love and respect Arthur. King Arthur turns a blind eye to the affair, but it causes unrest in the court. The elderly King Pellinore is caught in the middle as the kingdom starts to unravel. Then Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son shows up, jealously points out the hypocrisy, and destroys Camelot.
There is also fantasy in the plot. Merlyn is Arthur’s mentor, Nimue is a fairy spirit and Morgan Le Fey is a sorceress who assists Mordred in plotting against the Royals.
The casting is excellent. Jayme Armstrong takes Guenevere on a journey, from a spirited young bride to a frightened adulterer. Armstrong will be remembered as the 2nd runner up on CBC TV’s “How do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” Her beautiful voice is reminiscent of Julie Andrews on the original cast recording. Mark Harapiak is a perfect King Arthur – strong and commanding attention, but at the same time, very human and vulnerable. Gabriel Burrafato channels the late Robert Goulet when singing the show-stopper “If ever I would leave you”. He plays an understated Lancelot, but it works well in endearing the audience to him.
Great credit goes to William Fisher in the dual roles of Merlyn and Pellinore. Douglas Chamberlain was originally cast in the two roles; but unfortunately, he suffered a medical emergency during final rehearsals and could not carry on with the show. Fisher came in at the last minute, performing on opening night with script in hand. Nevertheless, Fisher had the audience’s full attention and was a given a loud and long round of applause, for his delightful and humourous portrayal of both characters.
My son, Thomas Alderson, plays the evil villain, Mordred. It’s difficult for me to be objective – I enjoyed seeing him in the malevolent role, with his surprise entrance. The audience appreciates his sarcastic solo “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and his rousing number with the knights “Fie on Goodness”. Susan Johnston Collins is wickedly charming as Morgan Le Fey, especially as she and Mordred tease each other. Linda Gallant is enchanting as Nimue, singing with great clarity. Henry Firmston, a youngster from London, plays little Wart at the beginning and young Tommy at the end of the show.
The rest of the Ladies of the Court and Knights of the Round Table are all strong singers, each bringing unique personalities to their characters. The chorus numbers highlight their truly outstanding voices.
There are many delightful costume changes, with colourful dresses on the ladies, and golden gowns for Guenevere. Similarly, the men all have colourful medieval costumes and make several changes. The jousting knights wear convincing armour and chain mail.
The set is the only disappointment in this production. The tree and castle wall are abstracts, and resemble a poor quality digital photo with boxy pixels. In the May Pole dance, the pole looks wobbly, and the “rocks” aren’t convincing when they turn into the famous round table.
If you can’t make it to Huron Country Playhouse to see Camelot before it closes July 25, there is still a possibility to catch it. Drayton Entertainment has once again contracted with a New York company and this production is going on a North American tour. In fact, it will be in London at the John Labatt Centre January 10th and 11th, as part of their Broadway in London season. But best to see it now with better sightlines and acoustics than an arena.
Camelot continues with eight shows a week until July 25 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or www.draytonentertainment.com.
Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.