David Lee's stripped-down production of Lerner & Loewe's beloved musical is truly refreshing.
We may not be as supremely self-absorbed as the perfection-seeking Lancelot (Doug Carpenter) or as awkwardly insecure as the inexperienced Arthur (Shannon Stoeke) attempting to woo lovely, flirty Guenevere (Shannon Warne) in the woods. But we understand them and their motives because Lee and his exceptional cast make clear the workings of their hearts.
This Camelot is presentational in form. Characters step forward to confide thoughts and concerns to the audience, and at the top of the overture-less show several players announce the story: "The Amorous and Glorious Tale of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere, and What Befell Them." Lee's adaptation also restores a lost youthfulness to the story by casting younger, age-appropriate actors.
The entire cast (of only eight performers) is uniformly strong, but the doomed lovers are especially outstanding. Carpenter's rich operatic voice adds credence to Lancelot's air of superiority, and he sets skin to tingling during the heartfelt "If Ever I Would Leave You." Warne is an earthier Guenevere than is usually portrayed, and in both voice and attitude she proves that lustiness extends far beyond the month of May. And it's pure pleasure to watch Stoeke's Arthur grow from the vulnerable, uncertain youth who is "ill at ease in my crown" to the wiser, more considered "civilized man" he becomes.
Scenic designer Tom Buderwitz has created an impressive series of platforms built from rough-hewn wooden planks and poles, lashed together with rope and escalating in height. A pair of chairs crafted in a similar medieval style becomes royal thrones, and a few small wooden tables and benches are easily re-configured to create other furnishings. Many of the minimal props also have multiple uses, such as the long swath of gauzy white material attached to Guenevere's crown like a wedding veil becoming a screen on which lighting designer Michael Gilliam projects the swirling fiery inferno that is her deadly punishment for treason.