If you’ve ever seen either a stage version or the 1967 film version of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, you might wonder how the three-hour-long piece could ever be trimmed to 90 minutes or so. In Asolo Rep’s current production on the outdoor Terrace Stage, an adaptation by David Lee, that’s really not a problem.
Strip away but still refer to a few of the less necessary characters—Merlyn, Morgan LeFay, knights and ladies—and you really don’t miss the pageantry, pomp and in some cases comedy that go along with them. Still in place are the lovely songs you remember (“How to Handle a Woman,” “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the title tune) and the main story of King Arthur, his Queen Guenevere, the knight Lancelot, and the ideals Arthur’s Round Table espoused, including might for right, not might makes right.
No, Lee’s paring down of the original script works just fine. What’s more problematic, in this time of Covid-19, is the necessary but regrettable distancing of the actors onstage. That is solved quite effectively by director Celine Rosenthal when it comes to knights jousting, plastic face shields replacing traditional helmets and movement facing toward the audience, not each other. It can’t help but be less successful when a romantic couple must remain feet apart, with no kissing or touching. Longing gazes, a musical chord, and mood lighting (by Ethan Vail) must substitute to announce the moment of falling in love.
The passing of time is also another feature of this Camelot that suffers a bit; we really have very little sense that years pass between Arthur and Guenevere's first meeting and the unfolding of their marriage, Lancelot’s arrival and the inevitable result for both king and kingdom.
That said, you could hardly ask for better performances in the main roles than you have here. Not only does Britney Coleman sing beautifully as Guenevere, whether playful (as on “Take Me to the Fair” or “The Lusty Month of May”) or wistful (“Before I Gaze at You Again”), she gives her character a spark that makes us believe in her. Her Jenny is not merely flirtatious, or, briefly, spiteful; we get the feeling she just has so much pent-up energy she needs to burn off that it will sometimes go awry.
Likewise, Alex Joseph Grayson as Lancelot, when delivering his introductory song, “C’est Moi,” doesn’t strike us so much as egotistical in his claims to strength, nobility and purity as touchingly naïve, since we know fate will knock him from his pedestal. (He also delivers a haunting “If Ever I Would Leave You,” without bombast.) Nick Duckart’s Arthur is engaging at the outset, when he’s wooing Jenny with tales of his magical land, and touching later on, as he sees the two people he most cares for reluctantly betray him but will not submit to revenge. He even scores with a catchy little jig on “What Do the Simple Folk Do.”
John Rapson as Mordred, the snake in the garden who all too quickly seduces Arthur’s knights into returning to their wicked ways, is appropriately scary without being over the top. And when Joseph Torello as Sir Dinadan and Levin Valayil as Sir Lionel join the other voices in unison, the six-member cast can feel much bigger.
The small orchestra can feel that way, too, and Steve Orich’s arrangements, occasionally playing with the familiar tempo of a tune, keep us pleasantly waiting for little surprises. Costumes, by David M. Covach and Dee Sullivan, are more or less contemporary, in keeping with the minimalism of the overall production.
So, if you’re worried that this production might be a Cliff’s Notes Camelot, fear not. It still tells a timeless story with heart and skill. Worry, rather, that you won’t be able to get a ticket, as Camelot is only set to run through April 1. Visit asolorep.org to see your chances there. The production will also be streamed April 5-11 at asolorep.org/camelotstream.