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Camelot
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Book Adapted by David Lee
Directed by Matt Kunkel
Choreographed by Beth Crandall
The Muny
June 23, 2022

Robert Petkoff (center) and Cast of Camelot
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

Camelot is a strange show, in the sense that it never seems to be the same show depending on what production you see. Since it first played on Broadway in 1960, there have been many professional, amateur, and school productions, along with a Broadway revival in 1980 and various national tours. I’ve seen many versions, from a high school production to dinner theatre, to a couple of those tours, to the last Muny production in 2009, and there always appear to be changes to the way the story plays out, in terms of the song catalogue and the book. It’s a legendary story that has become a beloved classic, but you never really know what you’re going to see when you see Camelot. Now, the Muny is going even further in the book revisions than I’ve ever seen before with their newest production, featuring an adapted book by David Lee that streamlines many aspects of the story while focusing on the three main characters. It’s a bold endeavor, and for the most part, it works.

The book has always been considered a weakness of Camelot, despite its beloved score and beloved reputation. Revising the book has been done before, and it’s going to be done again (for Broadway later this year, in the hands of well-known playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin). The current Muny production is an adaptation by writer David Lee that overhauls the script in a somewhat drastic way, omitting several characters and some songs, and creating a framing device in which a group of “revelers” tell the story of King Arthur (Robert Petkoff), Queen Guenevere (Shereen Pimentel), and Sir Lancelot (Brandon S. Chu), along with the Knights of the Round Table and the legendary court of Camelot.  It starts off somewhat abruptly once Arthur is introduced, and he starts right into his first song, “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”, but soon he meets Guenevere and their chemistry is strong, lighting up the stage as they form a strong, credible bond. Eventually, though, their relationship is challenged by the arrival of Lancelot from France, and the new knight causes a stir in the King’s court and in his marriage, as Lancelot and Guenevere find it difficult to fight their attraction to one another, despite their love for Arthur. Soon, the devious Mordred (Barrett Riggins) shows up to further stir up tensions, among the increasingly bored and dissatisfied knights as well as the royal couple and Lancelot, threatening the very ideals that Arthur has built his kingdom upon. 

It’s a well-known story, but this version has distilled the story down to its basic elements, for the most part. There’s a small ensemble, but notable characters from the musical are missing–most notably Merlyn, who is relegated to off-stage status, and King Pellinore, who I found myself missing, since I think his role as a confidant for Arthur is needed in some places. I didn’t miss Merlyn, though, and Arthur’s stories about him work well even without the character’s appearing onstage. Still, what’s done here works to speed up the show a bit, and the framing device helps to emphasize the legendary nature of the story. The look and presentation of the show is also radically different, with a stylized set by Anne Beyersdorfer that is frequently in motion, striking costumes by Tristan Raines that blend elements of Medieval style with more modern rock-inspired looks that feature a lot of leather jackets and chains for the knights, along with more modern suits and dresses for Arthur and Guenevere. The set, along with Shelby Loera’s stunning lighting design and some excellent video design by Kylee Loera, works well with the staging, which takes advantage of the Muny’s turntables to keep the action, and the story, moving along. 

The casting is strong, as well, led by a charming performance from Petkoff as the idealistic but self-doubting Arthur. He’s a joy to watch, and his chemistry with Pimentel’s Guenevere is palpable. Pimentel is also excellent, with strong stage presence and a glorious voice, bringing energy to “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood”, “The Lusty Month of May”, and more. Chu is good as Lancelot, with a strong voice, although he doesn’t quite have the bold presence that the character demands from his first appearance, and his scenes with Pimentel aren’t as electric as they should be, although this improves as the show goes on. Other standouts include Riggins as the gleefully malevolent Mordred, oozing stage presence from his first moment on stage. There are also memorable turns from the trio playing Camelot’s top three knights–Daryl Tofa as Sir Lionel, Sarah Quinn Taylor as Ser Sagramore, and Evan Ruggiero as Sir Dinadan. There’s also a strong ensemble and some excellent, energetic choreography by Beth Crandall and some well-paced staging of musical numbers, most notably the cleverly staged “C’est Moi”, which shows Lancelot’s journey to Camelot while he sings. 

This is a Camelot like you’ve never seen it before, and it’s certainly a crowd-pleaser. While I did find myself missing some of the elements that were cut out, I find this staging excellently paced and well-cast, with strong singing and a dazzling set and production values. The finale works especially well, with the emphasis on the legendary nature of this story, and for the most part, the cast brings a “shining moment” to the Muny with excellent style. 

 

Shereen Pimentel, Robert Petkoff, Brandon S. Chu and the Cast of Camelot
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting Camelot in Forest Park until June 28th, 2022

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