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Camelot

Anyone who grew up with the original Broadway cast album, and everyone who did not, will be thrilled by the performances in the Arvada Center's dazzling production of this classic. Arthur (David Bryant Johnson), Guenevere (Melissa Mitchell), and Lancelot (Glenn Seven Allen) are everything you could hope for, and the rest of the ensemble hits the same high notes. Toss in Brian Mallgrave's fanciful set, Clare Henkel's lush threads, a solid soundtrack, some fun choreography, and you've got a sparkling revival of what has become a rarely performed masterwork.

Melissa Mitchell as Guenevere
Melissa Mitchell as Guenevere
Photo: P. Switzer © 2013
The story of King Arthur has been told so many different ways over the centuries, yet it was Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) that immortalized it in one of the most seamless marriages of dialogue and lyrics ever. Camelot also bears the distinction of being associated with the Kennedy White House (based on a comment from JFK, that he and Jackie enjoyed listening to it often [at the time, the album hit #1 in the U.S. and stayed there for a while]), a period in which hopes were raised, then dashed, with the hope of revival1—just as King Arthur's epitaph in Sir Thomas Malory's Le morte d'Arthur references him as "The Once and Future King," which later became the title of the book by T.H. White, from which the book for the musical was loosely drawn.

David Bryant Johnson as Arthur
David Bryant Johnson as Arthur
Photo: P. Switzer © 2013

We are charmed right from the top, when Arthur and Guenevere meet alone in the woods, before she formally arrives at the castle. Johnson and Mitchell's chemistry and sympatico is evident immediately, eventually leading to the first iteration of "Camelot," where Arthur sings his kingdom's praises, trying to convince Guenevere that she will like it, too. We've just heard her sing to her patron saint, asking why she is being forced into this arranged marriage, as part of a peace treaty, before she has had time to enjoy her maidenhood.

Glenn Seven Allen as Lancelot
Glenn Seven Allen as Lancelot
Photo: P. Switzer © 2013



Perhaps this musical is rarely done, because it's so difficult to live up to the amazing voices that defined the original, but Mitchell is up to the task, soaring with the clarity of Julie Andrews. Richard Burton, whose speaking voice was second to none, but was not a singer, did incredible work blending his Stentorian tones and hitting every note, but Johnson is a fine tenor and takes the songs much further, while retaining the flavor of Burton's dialect (Received Pronunciation with a Welsh twist). This is before Lancelot even shows up, still only a vague memory to Merlin (William Thomas Evans), who is living backwards, from the future to the present. When he does show up—after Arthur's brainstorm about ending "might is right" and establishing "might for right" through the chivalrous Knights of the Round Table—Allen's Lancelot wows us with range and power ("C'est Moi!"), not to mention (later in the story) a more genuine connection to Guenevere ("If Ever I Would Leave You") than Robert Goulet was able to muster.

Who could ask for more? The long first act (1:40) breezes by and we are all too quickly at the bittersweet finale, with the three of them, before the hopeful epilogue in which Arthur knights young Tom and sings the final reprise of the title song.

The Arvada Center's Camelot, directed by Rod A. Lansberry, runs through October 6th. For more information: 720-898-7200 or www.arvadacenter.org.

Bob Bows

Footnote:
1 Coincidentally, Lerner and JFK were classmates at Harvard.

 

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