Soo and Andrew Burnap (Photo: Joan Marcus)
and Loewe’s problematic musical Camelot from 1960 is revived on Broadway
with a new book by Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Bartlett Sher, it mostly succeeds
with its attractive cast and able creative team. But the ghosts of the
original Broadway cast--Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, and Julie Andrews--seem
to be hovering in the wings at the Vivian Beaumont, making it a tough go for
the current principals to have their own brief shining moments on stage.
on T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Camelot is a romantic
tragedy about two men –King Arthur (Andrew Burnap) and Sir Lancelot du Lac
(Jordan Donica) -- who have a deep affection for each other and love the same
woman, Guenevere (Phillipa Soo), sharing her until their love triangle is
discovered and Arthur exposed as a cuckold to his kingdom.
take on Camelot is more than a love story gone wrong, however. It also
becomes a search for democracy, a toiling after justice, and ultimately a cautionary
tale about three idealistic but imperfect human beings whose tarnished lives
often makes a lump arise in the throat of musical theater lovers.
have long been thumbed at Lerner’s weak book for Camelot. Although its
first act is structurally sound, it has a breach of style in the second act,
with an ill-conceived subplot that has Arthur’s bastard-child Mordred (Taylor
Trensch) maliciously devising a plan to get Arthur to visit his sorceress
mother, Morgan Le Fey (Marilee Talkington). In his absence, Guenevere and
Lancelot succumb to temptation at the palace and fall into each other’s arms.
new book might not resolve all the problems of this structurally challenged
musical, but he does manage to accomplish two things: He jettisons magic from Camelot
to good effect, and he expands upon the idea of democracy and
equality. The upshot is that Arthur seems much more human and less a myth from
the Middle Ages. This is best driven home when Guenevere explains to Arthur
that the reason he was able to pull the sword out of the stone is that it had
been loosened by so many other king-wannabes before him.
Yeargan’s enchanting set and Lap Chi Chu’s romantic lighting can’t make up for the
rough patches in the narrative, but it does provide a misty mythological backdrop
to the tale. The musical, in fact, is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. And one
doesn’t have to wait for the first scene of Act I to enjoy it. The audience
can watch a ballet of simulated snowflakes falling through the sky of Camelot
leading up to the opening scene.
production has some of the best costumes of the season, contributed by Jennifer
Moeller. These costumes are laudable because they have character and are
organic to the musical instead of being mere display goods for the performers
to wear on their bodies.
Donica and Phillipa Soo (Photo: Joan Marcus)
the principals are involved in a menage a trois, they clearly have been chosen
with an eye to their looks. There’s Burnap, playing Arthur with suitable
idealism. Even though he does look young compared to his famous Broadway predecessor,
he has strong musical chops and elicits chuckles from the audience early on
with his first song, “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?” Phillipa Soo
is well-cast as Guenevere, and vocally she’s on the money with her rendering of
“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “The Lusty Month of May,” her delicate
soprano casting a spell over all. Jordan Donica inhabits Lancelot with a
passionate fervor, belting out “C’est Moi” with the robustness of a rooster at
dawn, his rich baritone voice undoubtedly heard by all, whether they are
sitting in the first row of the orchestra or last row in the balcony. The rest
of the large cast acquit themselves well, delivering the dramatic goods without
upstaging the principals.
musical’s connection to the late President John F. Kennedy can’t be
overlooked. In fact, in Lerner’s reprinted essay “The Street Where I Live” in
Lincoln Center’s Theater Review (Spring 2023), he remembers that Theodore H.
White went to Hyannisport the week after President Kennedy’s assassination to
interview his widow Jackie for Life magazine. She shared that her
husband had a love for the musical Camelot, especially the lines: “Don’t
let it be forgot, / That once there was a spot, / For one brief shining moment
/ That was known as Camelot.” Indeed, this recollection of Jackie Kennedy
touched the hearts of many in the dark days following Kennedy’s death—and
underscored the power of Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 musical.
Donica (Photo: Joan Marcus)
difficult to point to any one scene from this production as the “best,” but a
couple are particularly riveting. There’s the opening scene when the French
princess Guenevere attempts to escape her fate as Arthur’s politically-arranged
bride by secretly disembarking from her carriage, only to meet Arthur in the
field and discover that he actually is quite a charismatic king. If this
episode is warm and inviting, the scene when Guenevere and Lancelot are caught
in the act of adultery is utterly bone-chilling—and abruptly changes the musical
comedy into a tragedy.
overhaul of Camelot won’t please everybody. But for those theatergoers
who yearn to see a show that has enchanting music, a gorgeous set, visually
stunning projections (by 59 Productions), and actors worth their salt, this revival
is worth a visit.
Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater,
West 65th Street.
and Thursdays at 7pm; Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm; Wednesdays and
Saturdays at 2pm; Sundays at 3pm
more information, visit https://camelotbway.com/
time: 2 hours; 55 minutes with intermission.