Virtue? Or vengeance? 1960 musical about Arthurian times raises contemporary questions
By Julie Raefield for Ashland.news
Is the need for morality and virtue in leadership still worth fighting for in today’s America? Should it be? Are we now in a time of “might is right,” versus “might for right”? Is one leader’s struggle to ensure that “violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness,” still worthy of our attention?
Camelot Theatre in Talent has launched its return to live theater productions by posing these questions to audiences once again with a slightly updated version of Lerner & Loewe’s beloved musical, “Camelot,” running now through March 13.
Set initially in a modern-day ironworks foundry, with actors dressed in blue-collar garb that underpins their later costume additions, audiences are reminded that the story about to unfold is one that can’t simply be relegated to ancient times. The musical retells the medieval myth of King Arthur, his beloved wife and Arthur’s most trusted knight of the Roundtable, Sir Lancelot. Their love triangle threatens to derail an admirable and altruistic vision for governance, power and humanity.
While the modern-day set is a treat, no script update has been added to connect the new setting to the original tale. It is OK to overlook this wobble. Both the story itself and the many wonderful performances in this production make the leap worthwhile. It is also unexpectedly fun to experience the occasional well-choreographed dance-club numbers that are most assuredly set in modern times.
King Arthur, played with exceptional nuance by refined tenor Alex Boyles, undergoes a worthy journey in character and wisdom — moving from naïve, boyish enthusiasm cloaked in a Charlie Brown-like sweatshirt; to regally-bedecked, yet untested, inspiring leader; to a world-weary man forced to choose between his highest ideals and the whims and vagaries of his wounded heart. Boyles fully inhabits every stage of Arthur’s soul in both his facial expression and the wonderful, sensitive delivery of each song in his storyline — a true joy to watch.
Guenevere (production spelling), whose character embodies those of us with high levels of unconsciousness, is gracefully played by soprano Kelly Jean Hammond. Hammond uses her elegant, trained and highly delightful voice to lure us into enjoying her immature character’s childish pouts, imprudent passions and selfishness until her lessons are finally learned. A testament to Hammond’s skill is that the audience will easily envision her in flowing romantic gowns, even while her actual costume remains a blue cover-all overlaid with a simple white wrap-skirt.
The character of Lancelot, whose self-righteousness and piety leave him both an irritation to others and ignorant of his own weakness, is delivered with earnest and sweet dedication by tenor Trevor Pekas. With one of the most beautiful songs in the musical, Pekas’ appeal could be better supported by improved costuming. While reviving the dead and rescuing the queen amidst climactic music, it is difficult to hold the audience’s attention wearing welding gloves, drab coveralls and a shoulder cloak. Pekas’ portrayal will likely gain credibility if the audience receives a few more visual clues to his physical charm and magnetism.
And then there is Mordred. This trickster and long-lost son of Arthur, who exemplifies how past indiscretions can come back to haunt us, is deliciously played by Lauren Panter. Panter has thoughtfully imbibed the evil of this character and lets it ooze out of her body with snake-like charm. She deftly undermines all that Arthur has carefully crafted and held together through inner strength, bringing the play to its climax and forcing Arthur’s greatest moral reckoning.
The live music ensemble is superb, resulting from the many professional musicians under the effective direction of Karl Iverson. The seven wonderful voices of the cast offer tight, melodious harmonies that come across as a much larger chorus — with every character, in their shifting roles, played with soaring voices, well-articulated words, robust characterizations and the energy and joy the now-welcomed-back audiences will especially enjoy. The sound, set and lighting are crisp and fresh — adding excitement and verve to the experience.
Director Gwen Overland has inspired a wonderful team of players to bring a level of truth to their roles. She has reminded us that our dilemmas of 2022 burn as hot as those which inspired the tale of King Arthur. As individuals, we are offered a window into our individual moral journey, and as a society, we are offered the chance to ask whether we will now choose the rule of law or violence.
It is uplifting to welcome this delightful live theater production back in our midst, with the necessary precautions of masks and proof of vaccination or negative tests at the door.
Show times are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Regular tickets are $31-$38 and may be purchased in advance online (camelottheater.org), by phone (541-535-5250), or at the box office. Rush tickets are $20 or student tickets for $10 (with ID) may be purchased one hour before the show. The theater is at 101 Talent Ave., Talent.
Rogue Valley resident and freelance writer Julie Raefield has extensive experience as a journalist and communications professional. Email her at RaefieldJulie@gmail.com.