The Knights of the Round Table fall flat in Camelot
P. Switzer Photography
Throughout all three hours of Camelot, I was entertaining a single question: Why would anyone decide to stage this thing? I'd been pleased when I first read the show's title on the Arvada Center's season announcement: I had never seen Camelot before, and was anxious to make up for it. The very name is touched with the magic of the Kennedy years, and the songs are by the legendary team of Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Loewe, creators of the brilliant and witty My Fair Lady. What could possibly go wrong?
But when Lerner and Loewe wrote My Fair Lady, they were working with a script by George Bernard Shaw. Camelot's script is just plain dumb, with banal dialogue and a muddled plot. And the songs are mediocre, with the exception of the standout hit "If Ever I Would Leave You" and just a couple of others.
As the show opens, King Arthur is nervous about meeting his queen to be, Guenevere, and she is equally worried about the coming nuptials with him. They meet cute, falling for each other before either realizes who the other actually is. Arthur is an idealist who wants to renounce violence and inaugurate a reign of peace and wisdom symbolized by the famous round table, designed so that no single knight can ever sit at its head. She's in part pure 1950s stereotype, furious because Arthur has encountered her alone and vulnerable in the woods and hasn't taken advantage of her (something all women were supposed at heart to desire in those benighted times). She loves the idea of knights doing battle for her, and war in general. And she's a scheming manipulator who uses her beauty to get everyone to do her bidding. Perhaps we're supposed to feel that she gains in wisdom and maturity as the action progresses, but neither the script nor actress Melissa Mitchell communicates this. To carry off such obviously outdated concepts, the director could introduce a note of humor or irony, to indicate an understanding that things have changed — whether through Guenevere's performance or the reactions of those around her — but that doesn't happen here. Surely it would take more than beauty alone to earn the undying devotion of upright Arthur and chivalrous Lancelot. It's impossible to believe Guenevere and Lancelot love each other from the things they say.
In a scene that would delight the average nine-year-old, the powerful sorceress Morgan Le Fey (a fine performance by Megan Van De Hey) is bribed into working her magic against Arthur with baskets of chocolate and candy. But almost immediately afterward, the tone changes abruptly and we're in Joan of Arc territory, with Guenevere being led across the stage to be burned at the stake because of her affair with Lancelot. Who ordered this immolation? The wise and pacific Arthur? And in any case, why can't he stop it? Besides, last time we saw him, he was imprisoned in an invisible box, and we never saw him getting out. True, I might have missed something in all the confusing babble about France and knights massing for a fight. It doesn't help that some of the most important action in this musical takes place offstage: Lancelot at one point defeats three opponents in battle while out of view, and now Guenevere is enduring what may be the last terrifying moments of her life somewhere in the wings as well.
One thing you can count on from director Rod Lansberry is beautiful singing, and the three leads don't disappoint. David Bryant Johnson's Arthur has a full-throated and gorgeous voice, and Mitchell a purely lovely one. Glenn Seven Allen, who plays Lancelot, has a tenor that melts your heart, and he's also funny and dashing on the comic song "C'Est Moi" that introduces him. But a couple of the performances are hideously over the top. Adding insult to injury, there are a lot of infuriatingly bad accents from actors purporting to hail from various places on the British Isles: Welsh, north country, Irish, who could tell? These are the kind of accents where people say "merry" when they mean "marry" and roll their r's interminably when they're supposed to be Scottish.
This show might be a good choice for people nostalgic for the 1950s, but it's a stinging disappointment for those of us who remember "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" "On the Street Where You Live," "The Rain in Spain" and "Get Me to the Church on Time."
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.