Thursday, April 8, 2010

Faulkner: "Camelot"

Alan Jay Lerner's & Frederick Loewe's celebrated romantic musical "Camelot" has been around since 1960, and shows few signs of its age. Based as it is on one of several versions of the Arthurian legend -- T. H. White's "The Once and Future King" -- the story of the young Arthur's becoming king of England by pulling a sword out from a stone and later creating a fragile Utopian society that he rules from the famous round-table at Camelot is a familiar one...and food for thought today. Life at the top is not necessarily as great as it appears, and there are underlying flaws in such naivete.

The Kennedy administration of the 1960s was nicknamed "Camelot" as it described the young and attractive first family engaged in promoting peace and harmony in the world while managing several crises at home and abroad. Similarly, the Obama White House has a confident and virile young leader matched with a beautiful and socially engaged wife, and grapples with war, health care, education, recession, and party politics.

What a shame the Faulkner University's pretty and musically stunning production only rarely capitalizes on these metaphors, choosing rather to focus on the romantic love-triangle that jeopardizes the fabric of Arthur's kingdom.

This choice does have a number of pay-offs. Loewe's resplendent score is adeptly managed by Marilyn Swears' capable five-piece ensemble, and several memorable songs -- the title song "Camelot" and "How to Handle a Woman" among them -- are delivered by actors whose vocal strengths are aided by their abilities of dramatic interpretation.

As the proudly near-perfect Lancelot, Chase McMichen's lines are frequently hard to hear because of microphone difficulties and a too-fast delivery, but his version of "If Ever I Would Leave You", in which he professes his illicit love for Queen Guenevere [Sophia Priolo, whose unspoken responses speak volumes here, and whose brilliantly clear voice is a major component of the production] provides the most passionate and convincing moment in the play. -- And, Act II's "What Do the Simple Folk Do" sheds fine insight onto Arthur's [Thomas G. Habercorn] and Guenevere's relationship that has been tracked from their awkward and naive first meeting to a now comfortable domesticity.

Yet, "The Lusty Month of May" is reduced to a tepidly innocent evocation of romance, and Mordred's satirical "The Seven Deadly Virtues" seems rushed and keeps Michael Morrow from displaying his considerable talent for playing cleverly sinister roles.

There are greater thematic issues here that go almost unnoticed in an attempt to give equal weight to every major character and scene; this coupled with slow scene changes make for an almost three-hour production from director Jason Clark South.

Merlyn the magician's influence on the young Arthur shows a lot of promise through Chris Kelly's strong presence and fabulous make-up designed by Madison Faile. His charge to Arthur to both "think" and "act" is meant to impact Arthur for life, but when they do emerge later in the play, they are given brief attention and fail to resonate sufficiently for today's audiences.

The script makes frequent references to the meaning of "civilization", and concludes that building rather than destroying, humility rather than pride, and rightness rather than convenience ought to inform a new set of laws that allow justice without revenge; despite the threat of a return to uncivilized ways, there is hope for the future just as long as someone -- this time in the figure of a small boy -- can remember the qualities Arthur strove for and preserve a kind of immortality. -- But, they are glossed over so quickly in the performance that the inherent messages that could challenge the audience to take heed are hard to distinguish.