For those whose memories of the musical Camelot center on the original Broadway production starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet—and of lending its name to a certain Kennedy-era myth-making—the Asolo Rep’s new staging, which opens next Friday, March 19, will provide a new vision.
Playwright David Lee wrote his smaller-scale adaptation of the classic Lerner-Loewe show several years ago, with no idea in mind it might one day serve as a “pandemic play”—one that allows the Asolo to present it safely given Covid-19 concerns. Instead of a large cast attired in armor and gowns, his Camelot features just six actors (a few of them doubling roles) and concentrates less on pageantry than on the love story at the heart of the King Arthur-Guenevere-Lancelot triangle.
According to director Celine Rosenthal, the new show also focuses on asking the questions, “What makes a good leader? How do we as a people value goodness and virtue? And how do we come together as a country to survive?” All this while also enjoying the fun and romance of the piece.
The interpretation eliminates certain familiar characters, like Merlin, Morgan le Fay and King Pellinore, from the Camelot story, but Rosenthal says not many of the beloved Lerner-Loewe songs are missing in action—and of those you don’t hear sung, Steve Orich’s new orchestrations for the production weave their melodies into the underscoring.
For Britney Coleman, who plays Guenevere (she also played Marian the librarian in Asolo Rep’s The Music Man a few seasons ago), this is not her first time in the role. “I’ve been lucky to tackle it before, in two very different productions,” she says. “For one, David Lee directed it himself, and it was choreographed in a very specific way. The second time was totally different, more in the style of the original Camelot—grand, like Game of Thrones.”
But one thing Coleman has never had before as Guenevere is another woman on the creative team, so she’s enjoying working with Rosenthal. Of course, she’s also just enjoying performing live onstage after living in lockdown for months in New York City, performing only virtually. In a way, she says, that experience has helped her relate to some of the questions of Camelot, including, “How far are you willing to go to risk everything to follow your heart? And is there hope—a light at the end of the tunnel—if you do stay true to your heart? In Camelot, that one brief shining moment can carry your legacy on.”
Rosenthal adds, “I think, doing this version, I’ve come to value and miss touch and being close to people, due to Covid rules. We explore that here—how do I tell a love story when they can’t touch each other? It resonates with me, because I haven’t been able to touch my parents in a year.” And she agrees with Coleman about the hopeful message at the end of the musical. “Arthur is in this mess of having striven to meet his ideals, and having failed,” she says, “when that little boy comes to him and basically says, ‘I understand.’ It’s our job to keep trying for the ideals of what we want our society to be, and to inspire the next generation to carry on.”
Camelot is set to run March 19-31 on the Asolo’s outdoor Terrace Stage (previews are March 17 and 18), and it also stars Nick Duckart as Arthur, Alex Joseph Grayson as Lancelot, John Rapson as Mordred/Sagramore, Joseph Torello as Dinadan, and Levin Valayil as Lionel, Dap and Tom. For tickets and more info about Covid-19 protocols in place, head to asolorep.org.