Is less more for this Lerner & Loewe classic?
Camelot is a show that has long been burdened by its reputation of being overstuffed, overlong, and just plain daunting in terms of its size and design requirements. A relatively new, stripped-down, and refocused adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe classic has popped up at a few regional theaters across the country and is now playing at Boston's Lyric Stage Company through June 25.
Adapter David Lee (one of the minds behind television's Frasier) has spliced Camelot down into just over two hours and cut the extraneous characters and plot points, focusing only on the love triangle between King Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot.
The core plot remains unchanged: King Arthur (Ed Hoopman) and Guenevere (Maritza Bostic) are happy newlyweds, despite their initial hesitations. Arthur works to bring about a new order of laws and chivalry that become the talk of all of Europe. The buzz has reached France, and the dashing and ambitious Lancelot (Jared Troilo) sets out for Camelot, determined that he will join this fabled round table. After a joust, during which Lancelot fatally wounds another knight, Lancelot seems to bring him back to life, which secures his place at the round table and captures the attention of Guenevere.
Lancelot and Guenevere begin to fall for each other. Not wishing to destroy her marriage, Guenevere pleads with Lancelot to leave Camelot, but Arthur is already onto them. Meanwhile, Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred (Rory Boyd), arrives in Camelot. Angry with Arthur for abandoning him, he plots to dismantle the round table, turn the knights against Arthur, and expose Lancelot and Guenevere, bringing about the end of the storied "fleeting wisp of glory."
This leaner Camelot is not a better Camelot. And this production, under the direction of the Lyric's artistic director Spiro Veloudos, has been refashioned into a self-referential, story theater-style presentation that feels a bit more like a cop-out than a genuine fix. The "we're just a troupe of actors telling you a story" conceit does the tale a great disservice, and its wink and a nod presentation seems to apologize for its own existence. Beyond the conceit, it is never clear just how much time passes between each scene. If we can't tell at the top of the second act that Guenevere and Lancelot are rotting inside because their love has remained unrequited for years and years, the stakes don't seem high enough. It's also not clear exactly where each scene is taking place, which presents its own obvious problems.
The problems with this production extend beyond the adaption. Bostic is entirely miscast as Guenevere and the score does not sit well in her voice. She frequently takes on a disaffected tone that sometimes comes close to boredom. Hoopman, too, is tentative and his voice does not adequately give life to Arthur. It is only Troilo, in many ways an ideal Lancelot, who seems suited to his material. He is also the only one of the three who feels consistently invested in any way.
But even if you put aside the vocal trappings or chalk it up to taste, there is strikingly little chemistry between Bostic and each of her leading men. Guenevere's chemistry with Arthur needs to be delicious until it's not, and her connection to Lancelot needs to be pulverizing and raw. Watching this love triangle had me wondering if the romance in Camelot was really ever the most interesting part.
The miscasting continues on down to Boyd, who is weird and ticish as Mordred, a character who must be commanding enough to lead an army and beguiling enough to turn a kingdom against its king, comes across instead as a little boy play-acting. This character choice upends the severity of what Mordred's coup has done both to Arthur and to Camelot.
There is also an imprecision to the ensemble numbers and a strange dissonance between the small orchestra and the cast; a capped enthusiasm to all of the numbers that ends them with un-triumphant whimpers rather than the highs that are customary for one of the most charming scores ever written.
This Camelot looks as uneven as it plays. Karen Perlow's lighting is alluringly atmospheric, and Shelley Barish's multipurpose ramp set is populated with fairy tale-looking trees, but could use more than just a blank backdrop. Elisabetta Polito's costumes lack integrity because of the use of a few modern costume pieces, which is a great distraction.
Camelot closes with a tired, brokenhearted, and downtrodden Arthur urging a young, eager boy to run off and tell the story of Camelot to all he can. Yet as Arthur looks back on Camelot's glory days – its "one brief shining moment" – it's hard not to wonder if there's anything worth remembering at all.