Last Saturday night, my friend Dawn and I went to see the musical “Camelot” at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis. Neither of us had seen it before, even though when it appeared on Broadway in 1960 it won four Tony Awards and has since become a theatre classic (or so several theatre geek friends have told me.)
At Beef and Boards it was directed by Eddie Curry, with musical direction by Terry Woods and choreography by Doug King. Book and lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner, with music by Frederick Loewe. The show is sponsored by the National Bank of Indianapolis.
What the Show is About –
This is the segment from the rich legends of King Arthur in which he lives in his castle in Camelot, marries and falls in love with Lady Guenevere (spelled like that, not “Guinevere”) becomes best friends with Sir Lancelot, forms the Knights of the Round Table and establishes other practices meant to bring a lasting peace to England, only to be betrayed – with rancor by his illegitimate son, Mordred, and with regret by the two people that love him most. The personal betrayals unfortunately bring about a betrayal of the country’s peace as well.
Yet somehow, as long as storytellers still tell the stories of what was best about that time in Camelot to future generations, as long as children still grow up asking their local public librarians (or whoever) for information on how to become a knight, as long as people of all ages still quest for what is right, honorable, and just… there is still hope for humanity.
Good heavens, I am tearing up again, just summarizing it!
Artistic Considerations –
I was surprised to find myself weeping – actually fighting back sobs – at the end of this show on Saturday night. I think I had expected it to be a schmaltzy, spoofy show. You know: entertaining but…fluffy.
There certainly is humor in it, and the first act is definitely lighter in mood than the second act, but mostly it is beautiful, romantic (in the largest, most idealistic sense of the word) and respectful of the power and humanity in traditional stories and storytelling, especially this particular story.
In other words, this show had a triple-whammy of resonance for me, so I cried.
The musical is based on T.S. White’s quartet of novels about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The four novels, which include The Sword in the Stone, are now usually published as one book called The Once and Future King (but my local public library does own a stand-alone copy of Sword, too.) According to Anne Feeney on answers.com:
“Because Disney had purchased the rights to The Sword in the Stone, the part of the four-book series that depicted Arthur’s childhood, the musical only refers to that period as memories by the mature Arthur. Though a disappointment to the team at first, this even became a strength of the musical, as it provided more poignancy to those memories.”
In other words, don’t expect Arthur to turn into a fish the way he does in the Disney movie. However, even though Arthur is “mature” in this show, he is still a very young man as the show opens, uncertain of himself as either king or potential husband.
In fact, as the show opens, he is hiding boyishly behind a tree, trying to catch a first glimpse of his bride-to-be as she arrives in Camelot from her home. Douglas E. Stark portrays Arthur as humble, always scolding himself to “Think!” as his teacher, Merlyn (Jeff Stockberger), taught him. Even though Arthur says about himself that he is “not accomplished at thinking,” he is actually much wiser than he gives himself credit for. Along with the bumbling humility and unconscious wisdom are kindness and a sense of humor – a mix that makes Arthur completely endearing. Before I saw this show I would probably never in a million years have imagined Doug Stark as King Arthur (perhaps because he was so solidly, differently, funny in “The Producers” at B&B a couple years ago that a part of me will always think of him as Max Bialystock), but now I think he is perfect for this role, too.
Krista Severeid gives Guenevere a funny, adolescent self-involvement early in the show, especially when she sings about “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.” (The joys include running away from her chaperones so that everyone can make a fuss over her. Hah! I am laughing again, remembering the young Guenevere’s love of drama.) But later she, too, matures into a devoted wife and friend and becomes more complex.
The comfortable chemistry between the King and Queen – between Arthur and Jenny – as they sing “What Do the Simple Folk Do” is charming.
Handsome Sir Lancelot du Lac, played by Tony Lawson, also matures over the course of the show. He arrives in Camelot from France insufferably self-confident but eager to prove his loyalty and combat skills to Arthur. Over time, though, he is humbled by the mysteries of divine intervention. I loved the look of puzzlement on Tony/Lancelot’s face as his hand on a dead knight seems to revive the man.
He is also humbled by his uncontrollable love for his beloved leader’s wife, who loves him in return, even though she, too, wants to remain true to Arthur. My heart broke for all three of them.
Their singing voices are all lovely. Actually, everyone in this show sounds good. Laura Lockwood is spellbinding as the ethereal Nimue, calling Merlyn away from his magic and Arthur to be with her.
Jeff Stockberger is very funny and adorable as the visiting geezer king, Pellinore. He stumbled into Camelot one day while on a quest with his gangly, gallant dog, Horrid, who is played with panache by the huge and very real, but also very relaxed, Hamlet Stark.
Danny Kingston plays the despicable, dysfunctional, and probably – since I’m in d-mode anyway with my alliteration I’ll go ahead and say it – damned Mordred. When Danny came out to bow during the curtain call on Saturday night, someone near us murmured “Boo!” and I almost chimed in, even though I was clapping madly. As my friend Dawn said, “He was a great villain!” Danny Kingston’s Mordred is quite the treasonous little meddler, that’s for sure. I felt shivers of distaste when he sang about the “Seven Deadly Virtues.”
There are five other knights: Sir Lionel (Christopher Dickerson), Sir Guanne (Jonah Winston), Sir Dinaden (Sam Weber), Sir Castor (Jonathan Winston), and Sir Sagramore (Jon McHatton.) I loved their masculine stomping/dancing temper tantrum in the “Fie on Goodness!” number with Mordred.
I was intrigued by their sword fighting. Adam Noble was the fight director for this show. And look! Here is a photo of him from the CD of photos I received in my media kit! (Have I mentioned how much I love B&B’s media kits?)
If you are a regular reader of Indy Theatre Habit, you may remember that Adam Noble was the fight choreographer for the Cardinal Stage Company’s recent production of “The Grapes of Wrath,” in Bloomington, Indiana. The fighting in “Grapes” was done with wild fists in the dust – very realistic. The fighting in “Camelot” is with heavy swords and armor, and is therefore more fluid, almost stylized and ritualistic, yet very exciting in its own way. The way these men clank these swords in this show, I had no trouble imaging the damage the blades could do if they were not skillfully parried.
Queen Guenevere has two graceful ladies-in-waiting: Lady Anne (Jill Kelly) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Ann Murphy.) They are especially lovely during “The Lusty Month of May” when everyone dances an intricate pattern around a may pole.
Gus Leagre is capable and convincing as Squire Dap and a Page. Noah McCullough is just the right mix of eagerness and innocence as young Tom of Warwick.
The set, designed by Michael Layton, is deceptively simple but very pleasing: instead of it being all stone walls and turrets and things that you might expect from a play set in and around a castle, there are pieces of loosely-woven, homespun-y material hanging down and very little else. This gives a truthful, everyday feeling to the set: yes, this is a castle in a magical place called Camelot, but it is also a place where real people live, in a real time period that was relatively free of ornamental, or even factual, clutter. The story is a legend, after all.
The patterns in Ryan Koharchik’s deft lighting design help to define different areas of the castle and its grounds. I loved that it included evil reds and yellows whenever Mordred was present.
The unadorned scenery provides a perfect setting for the mostly jewel-like richness of the costumes, which were designed by Michael Bottari and Ron Case. The men’s gleaming armor and Arthur’s velvet tunics made me swoon, as did several of Guenevere’s gowns.
Ed Stockman is the stage manager. Bill Mollencupp is the technical director. Daniel Hesselbrock designed the sound. The orchestra up in the loft includes conductor Terry Woods on keyboard, Neil Broeker on woodwinds, David Coleson on trumpet, Tim Kelly on percussion, and Kristy Templet on keyboard. They all sounded great, too, as usual.
Audience and appeal factors –
Chef Odell Ward’s comfort food buffet always satisfies my physical hunger – and our server, Adrienne, did a great job of keeping our lemonade and coffee cups filled – but “Camelot” itself satisfies an emotional hunger for beauty and story.
It also triggers a wealth of other good memories, or at least it did for me. On the ride home, I asked my friend if she remembered how and where she first learned about King Arthur.
She said, “I saw the old Disney movie, of course, and then in college I read Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.”
I have never seen the whole Disney animated movie, but when I was a kid I would spend some of my weekly allowance money on the Disney Comic Digest. One week “The Sword in the Stone” was one of the stories in that magazine so I saw “the movie” that way.
Mark Twain’s The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was on my parents’ bookshelves. I stumbled on it and loved it when I was in oh, 5th or 6th grade. Since then there have been many, many other books related to knights and chivalry.
As a performance storyteller I have told the story of a boy named Percival and how he came to become a knight at King Arthur’s Round Table. Also the story of “The Sleeping King.” Legend has it that when England truly needs his help again, Arthur will awaken and return.
I bet this show will trigger your own “King Arthur” memories as well. My friend Mari says that “King Arthur” is like “Romeo and Juliet” – we all know what happened to them whether we’ve seen or read the play or not.
This is definitely a show for adults and teens but I think that many children would enjoy the sword-fighting, live dog, magical qualities, and so on, even if some aspects of the story go over their heads. The many children that were at the show on Saturday seemed to stay engaged throughout the night.
However, I wouldn’t take very young children to this show. I’m pretty sure, for example, that if I had taken my 4-year-old godson he would have been up on stage, yanking out the embedded Excalibur sword, in the mere moments that it took the rest of us to look at the dessert tray. And if so I would have proudly taken a photo and given him a hug! Being a godmother is great! But still, 8 years and older is probably best for this show.
For children in preschool through sixth grade, the Beef and Boards’ Pyramid Players are presenting “The Little Mermaid” beginning today, September 17, 2010, through November 6, 2010. Jessica Murphy stars in that. If I had the time, I would make an exception to my “no kids’ shows” rule just to hear her sing again. Here she is as the mermaid, Melody:
Box Office –
“Camelot” runs through October 10, 2010 at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre. There are several performances per week, including some weekday matinees. Tickets for “Camelot” or for “The Little Mermaid” may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10am and 7pm Tuesday through Sunday, and 10am to 6pm on Mondays. For more information, please visit www.beefandboards.com.
By the Way –
I was delighted that Melissa Hall came up to say hi to me at intermission. She has her own theatre reviews blog, called Stage Write. Her review of “Camelot” is here.
‘See you at the theatres!
(All photos taken by Julie Curry of www.juliecurryphotography.com. Roll your mouse over each photo to see credits, too.)