The stars shine bright in ‘Camelot,’ an ages old tale of love and legends
King Arthur. Guinevere the queen. The Knights of the Round Table. Lancelot du Lac. The story of “Camelot” is almost as old as storytelling itself. The Muny’s current production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic stirs in a few contemporary elements as it weaves the legendary tale for modern audiences. The result is entertaining, if not quite magical.
A young squire looking for a replacement sword for the knight he serves, Arthur unknowingly frees Excalibur the legendary sword in the stone. He is instantly transformed into the one true king. Aided by the brilliant wizard Merlin, Arthur matures into a wise, fair ruler who will bring peace and prosperity while uniting the kingdom. As the musical opens, the still youthful king is about to embark on his most daunting task yet, an arranged marriage.
Guenevere, a spirited woman with feminist leanings and feminine wiles, wants to abandon her duty to marry a man she’s never met. Not even if he is a king and their marriage will establish peace in the land. Arthur steps out for a bit of air to clear his confusion; Guenevere runs away to the woods near the castle, they unexpectedly meet. Sparks fly before he is revealed as her future husband and the seeds of chaos, doubt and distrust are sewn. All seems destined for happily every after, however, until the king establishes the knights of the round table, Lancelot arrives followed by the vengeful Mordred and the seeds begin to sprout.
Leads Robert Petkoff as Arthur, Shereen Pimentel as Guenevere, and Brandon S. Chu as Lancelot du Lac, sparkle brightly, with hints of true brilliance that are breathtaking. Pimentel creates strong chemistry with both men without losing the character’s sense of self. Petkoff and Chu’s bromance-like friendship feels equally well motivated and connected. Vocally, the three are powerhouses, conveying depth and context with each song.
Petkoff and Pimentel contrast then compliment each other with flawless renditions of “I Wonder what the King is Doing Tonight,” and “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.” Those lure us into “Camelot,” a soaring vocal treat that’s beautifully orchestrated and delivered. Petkoff is an established star with a control and emotional integration that connects with audiences. Rising star Pimentel matches his standout performance step for step and note for note.
Chu gives us a smooth, buttery “C’est Moi” with just the right comic touch and he and Pimentel linger -- longingly, harmoniously -- on every note of “Before I Gaze at You Again.” Finally, Chu is nearly perfect on “If I Would Ever Leave You,” a beautiful, bittersweet love song. When the performer’s acting levels up, Chu is going to be a genuine star.
The strong and involved ensemble features a bad-boy beguiling Barrett Riggins as Mordred and Evan Ruggiero, Daryl Tofa and Sarah Quinn Taylor as the king’s knights. The three are delightfully spry and comic individually and as a trio. As Tom of Warwick, the symbol of hope and the future, an appealing and expressive Riley Carter Adams finishes the show on a high emotional note.
The opening number features the ensemble as narrator, removing Merlin from the story in every sense except reference and leaving this reviewer conflicted. I embraced the opening sequence, with the rhythmic staffs and shared narration both alluding to Merlin, and it felt like a fresh approach. But as the story continued, I missed the sarcastic edge and humor of the character and grew weary of the constant references to the wizard without any appearance. Combined with some of the truncated story and slight overuse of the chanting narration, parts of the musical feel entirely like too much telling and not nearly enough showing.
In addition to guiding the audience through the show with, the ensemble provides more traditional musical highlights in a number of songs that liven up the show. The “Prologue,” “The Jousts” and “Finale Ultimo” are energetic and well synchronized with the choreography, providing additional percussion. “The Lusty Month of May,” “Take Me to the Fair,” and “Fie on Goodness,” as well as Arthur and Guenevere’s “What Do the Simple Folk Do,” add plenty of upbeat, up-tempo fun and a bit of humor.
The story of King Arthur has something for everyone – gallant knights, action and swordplay, romance, a complex and tragic love triangle, jealousy and deceit, and a powerful and mysterious wizard. There are even hints of social justice and a surprisingly nuanced take on the love triangle. Unfortunately, this production doesn’t quite reach that level of storytelling or cathartic satisfaction. Under the direction of Matt Kunkel, with choreography by Beth Crandall and music direction by Abdul Hamid Royal, the musical delivers the plot but doesn’t find the emotional connection and sense of wonder that makes this story an enduring legend.
“Camelot,” continuing through June 28th, is a genuinely entertaining show that sparkles with talent and fresh perspective. The songs are engaging and often quite spirited. The production doesn’t quite hit the same heights as the fantastic legend on which it’s based. Captivating performances, enchanting songs and the sense of the classic tale ensure the family friendly show nonetheless leaves audiences smiling with satisfaction.