Geva Theatre Center has a hit on its hands with Camelot. It's a beloved story. Despite the show's basic drawbacks, the large cast sings and performs well. And the King Arthur is worth the price of admission by himself.
Four years after their incomparable My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe came up with this other big musical with a story taken from classic British legend rather than English classic drama.
It too starred Julie Andrews and a famed male English movie star, and again had a male lead dramatically talking as well as singing his songs. It was a disappointment, however, because the script is gassy, sentimental posturing; the songs are pretty but not as good; and the action is actionless.
Outdoor flower festivals, picnic celebrations, jousts, battles, magical transformations, and much derring-do, and yet not one dance or any real movement is indicated in the script. Let's just stand absolutely still here and talk a lot about what exciting things are happening in front of us!
Director Christopher Gurr is no help at all, slowing the pace, avoiding anything that looks like a magical effect, even for Merlin's mystical disappearance or Lancelot's miraculous healing of an opponent he has slain. I'm not sure how we even know that Lancelot did it: There's no special lighting effect, and the corpse doesn't stir until Lancelot has walked away from it without having made much of a healing gesture or seeming to expect anything to occur.
But the music is very pretty, if not so distinguished as some of Loewe's best, and everyone plays and sings it effectively under Don Kot's direction. The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a favorite.
Some of us are old enough to get emotional about the connection made between President Kennedy's memorial and the climactic line from the title song that Arthur finally speaks.
Even without any such special connection, there's a kind of emotional jag at work in this tale of lost grandeur. And Remi Sandri plays Arthur with such conviction and personal charm that one can almost believe in this hokum.
There's not much charm in Brigid Brady's frowning Guenevere, but she sings better than anyone else in the cast, which is saying a lot. And Gurr does get some playful movement in Arthur and Guenevere's "What do the Simple Folk Do?"
Lancelot is usually a stick, but Gerritt VanderMeer brings some humanity to the role. He's a relief from Robert Goulet's nasal delivery in the role, which I remember as the most nauseating example of self-love I've ever seen onstage.
Robin Chadwick makes an unrecognizable transition from a dignified Merlin to a foolish King Pellinore, and is amusingly over-the-top in both roles. Blaine Hogan is a strong-voiced Mordred, though rather restrained in Mordred's campy evil behavior. And I liked Brett Jones, who displays surprising strength and assurance as young Tom of Warwick, the boy who gives Arthur hope of remembrance at the end.
The production doesn't look cheap. But John Carver Sullivan's costumes look like stage costumes and G. W. Mercier's artificial looking sets are obviously stage sets. They are cleverly designed and move in complicated ways and change appearance somewhat in Marcus Doshi's subtle lighting designs. But their gray-green mildew color scheme really lets us know that this is an ancient tale, because they consistently look moldy.
So is the show, but these talented performers give it a whiff of fairytale glamour.
Camelot,by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, directed by Christopher Gurr, plays at Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Boulevard, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. (but July 6 through 8 at 7 p.m.), Saturdays at 4 and 8:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 and 7:30 p.m., through July 11. Tix: $20 to $52.50. 232-4382, www.gevatheatre.org.