The eight-actor company of CAMELOT — augmented by a heads-on-a-stick ensemble — spend a thrilling day at The Jousts, in the re-imagined musical classic that continues on stage at Two River Theater. (Photo by T.C. Erickson)
It’s a shining kingdom of law and virtue that boasts a population of just eight humans — and only one woman in town, at that. But if the Two River Theater Company production of Camelot seems to be missing a few of its usual fixtures — the dour middle-aged actors, the cardboard castle walls, the pointy hats — what stands revealed at its heart is one of the true evergreen musicals of its (late 1950s/ early 1960s) era, with one of the most sharply delineated triangles in stage history, and a memorably introspective score by the Lerner and Loewe team that previously brought the world My Fair Lady.
Directed here by the Emmy winning sitcom impresario David Lee (Frasier, Wings), this is a Camelot the likes of which you may not immediately recognize — one that dispenses with several of the familiar characters (including Merlin), and which paints over the memory of Richard Harris and other brooding King Arthurs with a fresh-faced cast of young pros that take the story back to basics, against a functionally spare multi-level staging that sometimes substitutes pantomime for pageantry (and, in the percussively choreographed opening moments, a healthy bit of STOMP in place of pomp).
Done up largely in muted earthtones — suggesting that Arthur’s kingdom is indeed a place of civility rather than glittering treasures — the show runs on the strength of its core cast members. British actor Oliver Thornton (the West End production of Rent) makes his Stateside stage debut as Arthur; divining music from a part that was designed for such un-golden throats as Richard Burton’s, and retaining a boy-king quality even in the face of crumbling realms and relationships. Britney Coleman sketches a strong but conflicted Guinevere, with Nicholas Rodriguez (Disney’s Tarzan) matching her in vocal prowess as the proud, pious (and possibly superpowered) Sir Lancelot. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Broadway’s A Little Night Music) has fun with the play’s man-you-love-to-hate, illegitimate heir Mordred — and Tony nominee Steve Orich (Jersey Boys) directs a live ensemble of seven musicians.
The cast does good work with the songs, a set that ranges from standards like “How to Handle a Woman” and “If Ever I Would Leave You,” to a couple of numbers (“Fie On Goodness,” “Then You May Take Me to the Fair”) that haven’t always been included in many latter-day productions. Ensemble numbers like “The Jousts” bring out the most imaginative aspects of Lee’s economical staging — reinforcing the fact that this is a story passed down largely through language and evocative imagery, something that the show’s final moments (an exhortation to spread the word far and wide) makes abundantly clear.
Extended past its initially announced engagement, Camelot continues through December 14 with a mix of matinee and evening performances. Tickets ($20 – $42 adults) and details on special performances can be obtained by taking it here. If you’re catching the matinee performance on Sunday, December 7, stick around as TRTC artistic director John Dias engages the audience in a post-show discussion of John Kennedy Toole’s quirky classic novel A Confederacy of Dunces and its anti-hero, “the intellectual, modernity-hating, hygiene-challenged, hilariously self-deluded Ignatius J Reilly,” who “fancies himself a modern-day knight…we’ll discuss how the legends of old have influenced stories throughout time, and look into how thinking of yourself as a knight might not necessarily make you one.” Call (732)345-1400 or visit the online box office to RSVP for Sunday’s free 5:30 pm presentation.