By Daniel Skora
The Encore Musical Theatre is currently presenting Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” in a lively production featuring Stephen West as King Arthur. West’s rich baritone has been heard on the stages of the finest opera houses internationally and across the USA. He has appeared in previous Encore stage productions, starring in “Fiddler on the Roof”, “Les Miserables”, and “South Pacific”.
“Camelot” opened on Broadway in 1960 and though the musical met with only moderate success, its concept of an idyllic place where all is right and good and nature is always kind became an American cultural touchstone when the name was used to describe the White House of the John Kennedy administration. It has had few major Broadway revivals and by comparison with other big name musicals of the era seems dated both in style and presentation.
“Camelot” is based on the T.H. White book “The Once and Future King” which in turn was based on the book Le Morte d’Arthur, a compilation of stories and legends about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Of all the men who tried to remove the sword Excalibur from its place in the stone, only Arthur succeeded, making him King England
The musical begins at the point where the apprehensive Arthur (Stephen West) first meets his bride- and queen-to-be Guenevere (Olivia Hernandez). Though he sorely misses the counsel of Merlin the Magician (Jim Walke), the marriage proves to be a happy one for king and queen and a significant one for Camelot. With Guenevere’s encouragement, Arthur establishes a Knights of the Round Table whose purpose is to go about the kingdom righting wrongs. One such knight who has travelled to England to pledge his loyalty to Arthur is Sir Lancelot (David Moan), a brave, chivalrous champion from France. But Lancelot and Guenevre fall in love and when Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Tyler Lynch) shows up, not only is the marriage of the King and Queen threatened, but the existence of the Round Table and Camelot as well.
“Camelot” features a wonderful score that has remained a favorite over the years. Besides the title song, (“There’s simply not/ A more congenial spot/ For happy-ever-aftering as here/ In Camelot!”) others that have remained popular include “If Ever I Would Leave You”, “What Do the Simple Folk Do”, “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”, and “How To Handle a Woman”. West, Hernandez, and Moan contribute spectacular vocals.
The Encore’s production is worthy of its Broadway roots. The show is colorful, lively, and played by a talented, energetic cast. The major part of the set (design by Sarah Turner) is suggestive of the galleries that ringed medieval jousting arenas. A large simulated tapestry backdrop is wheeled in and out as interior scenes demand. High above the stage, the castle looms majestically in the background.
The stylized fight scene in the second act (Fight Captain Daniel A. Helmer, who also appears in the show as Sir Lionel) plays like a ballet. Others in the cast of 18 include Sebastian Gerstner, Michael Szymanski, Karina Stribley, Tim Brayman, Jonah Robinson, Billy Eric Robinson, Alejandro Cantu, and several members of the ensemble.
“Camelot” is directed by Dan Cooney. Music direction is by Tyler Driscoll who also plays piano and conducts the six piece band. Lighting is by Daniel C. Walker, choreography by Matthew Brennan with ensemble member Meredith Steinke serving as Dance Captain.
“Camelot” runs through July 2nd. Tickets are available by calling 1.734.268.6200 or going online at www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets. Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. If you’re coming west down I-96, exit at Baker Street.