With our current political climate, it seems America couldn’t be further from the idealized Camelot era of the Kennedy Administration. Some might fear Camelot is gone forever, but in Orleans, at The Academy of Performing Arts, the mythical land is alive and well.
Based upon the legend of King Arthur and adapted from “The Once and Future King” by T. H. White, the 1960 Broadway musical helped to define an era, with the original cast’s album staying at the top of the music charts for over a year. The Lerner and Loewe musical had an iconic cast with Julie Andrews (Queen Guenevere), Richard Burton (King Arthur), Roddy McDowall (Mordred), and Robert Goulet (Sir Lancelot) in his first Broadway role.
“Camelot” opens with a young and uncertain King Arthur (Christopher Schultz) nervously asking Merlyn (Geof Newton) about his future wife, whom he expects to meet and marry the next day.
With a rebellious spirit, the future Queen Guenevere (Sara Sneed) has run away from her traveling entourage, and dreaming of adventure and love (“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood”) she bumps into her future husband. Not revealing his identity, King Arthur woos her with a romantic description of his fair land in the renowned song “Camelot.”
Schultz manages the weight of the commanding King Arthur role with aplomb, showing an impressive range of emotion, from gentle and thoughtful to outraged and impassioned. A talented singer, Schultz, together with Sneed, presents a delightful “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”
As the elegant queen, Sneed readily brings Julie Andrews to mind, with her perfect diction, collected demeanor, and spectacular voice.
Desiring to make Camelot more “civilized,” where “might” is only used for “right,” King Arthur comes up with the revolutionary idea of “The Knights of the Round Table,” where all worthy knights are treated equally. Playing the legendary French knight Sir Lancelot, Beau Jackett readily brings humorous moments to the show, especially in the self-aggrandizing song “C’est Moi.”
As much as Guenevere and Lancelot love their king, the two can’t deny they have feelings for each other, but they vow never to act upon them. The romantic tension between the two actors is well developed, with Jackett tenderly serenading Sneed in the romantic “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
This unfulfilled love between Guenevere and Lancelot creates a deep division at the heart of Camelot, which leaves room for the splendidly sinister Mordred (Newton) to work his way into the court wreaking havoc, while Pellinore (David Otis), a comically eccentric friend, counters the evil with his undying loyalty to the king.
Peter Earle directs the laudable musical, which charmingly recreates the splendor of Camelot. Karen and Ellen Birmingham’s costumes are stately, especially Guenevere’s well-designed medieval gowns and Lancelot’s knightly outfits, complete with a chainmail shirt, a chest plate, and impressive sword.
The unadorned set is framed by a mix of detailed screen projections featuring castle walls and nature scenes.
For a musical of its time, the show surprisingly contains more dialogue than music, resulting in an engaging yet lengthy three-hour show.
As always, musical director Christopher Morris flawlessly accompanies the fine cast on the keyboard, showcasing “Camelot’s” many beloved songs, in this enduring musical that helped to define the political landscape of hope and change in the early '60s.
At The Academy of Performing Arts, 120 Main St., Orleans
Through April 9
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963