T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” provided an excellent source for Alan Jay Lerner’s book, his lyrics and Frederick Loewe’s score in a 1960 Broadway musical that featured Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere and Robert Goulet as Lancelot.
That show, which followed Lerner and Loewe’s superior My Fair Lady effort, seemed inextricably tied to its era when a recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy told writer Theodore White (no relation to T.H.) that she and President Kennedy loved to listen to the title song before going to bed at night. She said JFK was especially fond of the conclusion written by Lerner, a classmate of his at Harvard: “Don’t let it be forgot/that once there was a spot/for one brief shining moment/that was known as Camelot.”
That tie to the Kennedy Administration, and subsequent revivals and tours with (among many others) Burton, Richard Harris (star of the 1967 film version), Goulet (who played Arthur in later years), Rock Hudson and even La Bamba star Lou Diamond Phillips – he came to Nashville with a production in 2008 – made this entertaining show feel more like a museum exhibition from the mid-Twentieth Century golden age of musicals.
Now Director Michael McFadden and his colleagues have rescued Camelot from the archives and made it shimmer again as a story. Among welcome changes to make this somewhat stilted musical hum along: Songs like “You Can Take Me to the Fair” and “I Loved You Once in Silence” that were enjoyable reinforcements of plot points but nevertheless unnecessary have been jettisoned, and a number that could use trimming like “Fie On Goodness” has been judiciously cut.
Most importantly, the love triangle between the three leads is now much more believable. I remember watching Harris and Goulet as they struggled to make their Arthurs seem less like fathers and more like husbands to the women playing opposite them as Guenevere. In this tour the dashing Adam Grabau is (among the other fine qualities he displays as Arthur) a very believable lover opposite the beautiful Mary McNulty; add the handsome Tim Rogan and you have a triangle where love and betrayal mix powerfully and poignantly.
All have wonderful voices and handle their signature songs well. Grabau gets the proceedings off to a witty start in word and gesture with his rendition of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight” and McNulty nails her character’s initial trepidation in “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.” Rogan’s oh-so-earnest “C’est Moi” is the treat it should be and his sensitive take on “If Ever I Would Leave You” is really lovely; Grabau delivers “How to Handle a Woman” with the gentle yearning it requires.
Kasidy Devlin (complete with a high-pitched laugh that’s appropriately reminiscent of a hyena) is a terrific Mordred – I listened for years to my grandparents’ copy of the original cast album and his reading of “The Seven Deadly Virtues” is just as delicious as hearing Roddy McDowell’s take on that song years ago. Devlin’s contributions to “Fie on Goodness” and other moments are also very entertaining. Kudos go to Mark Poppleton as well for his wonderful doubling as Merlyn and King Pellinore.
The excellent ensemble includes three local actors playing Tom of Warwick in the final scene – I had the pleasure Wednesday of watching a very good performance by fourteen-year-old Bryton Cole, an eighth grader at Mt. Juliet Middle School. Henry Hawes (a seventh grader at East Nashville Magnet Middle School) and Charlie Webb (an eighth grader at Abintra Montessori) are alternating with Cole in the part during the tour’s Nashville run.
Last but certainly not least are the musicians led by conductor/keyboardist Marshall Keating – Jeffrey Snider on percussion, Alexander Domschot on guitar and lute, Eric Eaton on cello and Michel Gohler on reed. Their exquisite playing – and intriguing additional orchestrations by Musical Supervisor Steven M. Bishop – provide plenty of verve for the score.
This very handsome production also benefits from Kevin Depinet’s adroit mix of traditional and modern scenic design elements, Mike Baldassari’s sublime lighting, Craig Cassidy‘s pure sound design and Paul Tazewell’s first-rate costumes. Those contributions and the others mentioned earlier have reclaimed Camelot from history, and that’s as it should be – theater is a living thing and not a relic of the past.
Tennessee Performing Arts Center presents Camelot as part of its HCA/TriStar Broadway at TPAC Series through Sunday. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Today; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Andrew Jackson Hall (505 Deaderick St.) To buy tickets (starting at $27.50) online click here, call (615) 782-4040 or visit TPAC’s box office. For more information on the show visit CamelotTour.com.