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Camelot – Pasadena Playhouse – Los Angeles Theater Review  

 

CAMELITTLE 

 

picture - CamelotTheater Review 

by Harvey Perr 

published January 24, 2010 

 

Camelot 

now playing in Los Angeles at the Pasadena Playhouse 

through February 7 

 

Camelot is Camelot. You can pare it down, slice it up, throw it to the Gods and see where it lands or throw it to the wolves and watch it get devoured. It will still be Camelot. And what is Camelot? It is one of the most disappointing musicals of all time, coming, as it did, on the heels of My Fair Lady, and despite the fact that it has one of the theater’s most winning scores – with lovely and lilting music by Frederick Loewe and wise and witty lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner which are almost but not quite as good as its hard-to-top predecessor – it was clear from the start that T.H. White’s The Once and Future King did not provide Lerner with the gorgeous inspiration that he got from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

 

picture - CamelotTherefore it would seem logical that any revival would try to do something about that cumbersome and emotionally stifled book. So David Lee, the director of the revival at the Pasadena Playhouse, has tried it every which way. He has pared it down. He has sliced it up. And he has thrown it both to the Gods and the wolves with the result that, after all these years, the problem of the book has not been solved.

 

Lee is a musical comedy maven whose love for the form apparently originated when he first heard the original cast album of Camelot. And, like Rosie O’Donnell, who also seems to know every original cast album extant and whose knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic but singularly lacking in taste and judgment, Lee seems to have a penchant for third rate musicals with luscious and underrated scores – he directed an apparently successful production of Cole Porter’s Can-Can – but if his work on Camelot can be used as evidence, he would be better advised to sell its original cast album in the lobby and stay away from the musical he treasures so much that he even remembers the name of a certain Mary Sue Berry, a member of the chorus of the original production.

 

picture - CamelotIt is one of the peculiarities of the theater that loving something doesn’t ensure that working on it will yield the hoped-for magic. For one thing, the New Order that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table had dreamed about was somehow connected to President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, and it gained in resonance that the brief shining moment of Camelot was forever linked to the hopes that died when Kennedy was assassinated. That moment seems to have faded from our consciousness, or is, at least, less relevant in any production of Camelot we are apt to see today. And anyone who managed to sit through its last hopelessly misguided revival (with Gabriel Byrne) could have warned Lee against tackling the material again so soon. And, as someone who actually saw that original 1960 production, I can tell you that the most memorable part of the evening was its lavish sets. And Richard Burton, despite the fact that he hadn’t much of a singing voice, managed, with his sonorous tones, to cast a spell of melancholy that made up for whatever was lacking in the book. It was, of course, the show that made a star of Robert Goulet, who owned the part of Lancelot the moment he sang “If Ever I Should Leave You.” And with Julie Andrews as Guinevere and Roddy McDowell as Mordred, the intended majesty, which never really took hold, was at least served by having the show’s royals played by members of theater royalty.

 

picture - CamelotBut what do you do if your King Arthur looks like a juvenile dressed up as a country squire but who is definitely not to the manor born? And if your Guinevere looks like a milkmaid? And if Lancelot is neither boob nor saint, let alone a sublime combination of both? And if your Mordred is more to be censured than pitied? And, if you eliminate the character of Morgan Le Fay – not altogether an unwise choice – how do you get Mordred’s plans to foil King Arthur to make sense? And, in a play where the tragic fate of the lovers – Lancelot and Guinevere – is that they remain chaste, what is the sense of the little “shocker” that ends the first act?

 

Only Christy Crowl, whose musical arrangements and orchestrations are crisp and elegant, and which lovingly demonstrate the durability of the sometimes enchanting score, comes through this revival unscathed. There is a charming segue from “The Lusty Month of May” to “Then You May Take Me To The Fair,”  which suggests a kind of liveliness that was possible if everything else had come together. But, alas, that was not meant to be. I have seen high school productions of Broadway musicals that were vastly superior to what shall now be known as “The Pasadena Camelot.”  Anyone who would like specific examples, I am willing to supply them upon request. In the meantime, Mr. Lee, what’s next? Flahooley?

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Craig Schwartz

 
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