So much of the best musical comedy to favor the region recently has come from Boulder Dinner Theatre that it's no surprise that BDT's production of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot is just what it should be--magical. This isn't Lerner and Loewe's best work (that distinction belongs to My Fair Lady), but Loewe's charming, merry melodies and Lerner's clever lyrical ironies always manage to strike a fine-tuned sentiment or two.
What makes the Boulder production work so well is its skillful blend of comic talents--especially A.K. Klimpke as Arthur, Joanie Brosseau-Beyette as Guenevere and Wayne Kennedy as Lancelot--with charming sets and costumes that perfectly evoke a fairy-tale world.
The musical is based on T.H. White's The Once and Future King, and the play is littered with references to that 1958 novel, which depicted King Arthur's boyhood and education. Arthur's tutor in the White novel, Merlyn the Magician, delighted in turning the princeling into various animals to let him see life from a variety of perspectives. The play picks up where Merlyn is about to evaporate into the mists, seduced by a lovely and powerful witch. Poor Arthur is dependent on Merlyn to do his thinking for him; he's not too accomplished at the art himself. But like all young men, he must learn to stand on his own feet and make his own decisions.
Arthur is about to acquire a bride just as Merlyn is spirited off, and when the young, headstrong Guenevere arrives, she mistakes Arthur for an ordinary knight and insists she's not ready for marriage. Rather than bully her, "Wart" (as he was called in boyhood) sings to her about a wonderful place called Camelot, wooing her with a utopian vision. It works.
But the patterns of human history and myth being what they are, a snake appears in every single Eden. In this case, lust tags along with the purest of all knights, Lancelot du Lac. Lance, as his friends call him, has no false modesty at all. His opening song, "C'est Moi," is his paean to himself--he knows he is the bravest, strongest, most talented of all knights, and he lets everyone else know, too. Lance is so squeaky-clean when he first arrives that he can raise the dead--ironically, the very knack that wins Guenevere's heart. Since this is the family version of the story, Lance and Genny never actually have sex, but after many years of platonic devotion, they are caught in the act of kissing, and that's enough to burn down the entire dream.
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Wayne Kennedy lacks the traditional good looks often sought by casting directors, but his Lancelot is warm and convincing in a way few actors achieve. He has a forceful presence and an ability to project intelligence (it served him well as BDT's Professor Higgins in last season's My Fair Lady) that's far more appealing than, say, Keith Rice's handsome face was in Country Dinner Playhouse's production last year. A.K. Klimpke, in another refined, entertaining performance, gives Arthur a cool charm that is likewise smart and perceptive--it's easy to understand why Genny respects him but longs for Lance. Scott Beyette makes the villainous Mordred a truly noxious presence, while Joanie Brosseau-Beyette fully fleshes out the doll-like naivete of bride Genny, allowing her to grow into womanly sweetness once she discovers Lance's spiritual gifts.
Director Ross Haley sprinkles inventive bits of business through the whole production--there's always something going on that's a little more elaborate than most productions of this show allow. To build the tension between husband and wife in "What Do Simple Folk Do?" for example, Haley has Genny resist Arthur's romantic advances. The guy is so defeated, it's pathetic. And most of the smaller roles are treated with unusual care-- Shelly Cox-Robie as the stunning witch Nimue and DP Perkins as Merlyn are terrific together.
Myths like this one still do fire the imagination, because most of us really want to believe in human ingenuity and goodness--abundant qualities in Camelot, where the chivalric code flowered. And the Arthurian cycle, like most legends, reveals such intense truths about the human mind that even a musical-comedy telling of the tale has something to say.
Camelot, through March 2 at the Boulder Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, 449-6000.