Coming to Buffalo less than a week after the death of Robert Goulet (the original Lancelot and the frequent King Arthur) it would be difficult for any production not to escape the deserved nostalgia and instant comparison of those roles with one of the world’s finest baritones. Suffice it to say that Lou Diamond Phillips as the beleaguered King of England does yeoman’s service as an actor (and energetic dancer in “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”) but cannot use even Merlin’s magic (Eric Anderson’s performance is commendable) to keep his pitch on even keel and fill the sustained legato passages with anything more than the thinnest of tone.
In another corner of Lerner & Lowe’s fabled love triangle, Matt Bogart dashes through the role of Lancelot with a climax-shy but credible voice and manages his French accent without evoking any risk of snickers from Monty Python fans (last season’s Spamalot, cross-reference below, was an all around triumph). As the double-edged love interest, Rachel de Benedet infuses her interpretation of Guenevere with a marvellous sense of comic timing (her unquenchable desire for lust and blood is totally convincing) and lifts her vocal contributions from an uncertain beginning (“Simple Joys of Maidenhood”) to the emotionally filled and melodically rich Act II opener “Before I Gaze at You Again.”
Melina Kalomas’ highly-successful response to the demands of Nimue should net her a larger assignment at the next casting call; Shannon Stoeke renders Mordred as truly nasty (“The Seven Deadly Virtues”)—if not totally despicable; Time Winters serves up a delectable Pellinore whose unflinching desire to solve disputes with a sword will cheer Republicans everywhere and Tavis Danz's enthusiasm and boyish good looks will find their way into many other parts as he learns the value of “less is more.”
The ensemble made the most of their partying scenes as they sailed through Dan Mojica’s straightforward choreography and Sean Boyd’s well-constructed and executed fights. Conductor/orchestrator Craig Barna kept the proceedings moving forward and only approached “train-wreck territory” when the chorus spent more time looking for their Queen (“Guenevere”) than observing the beat.
John Iacovelli’s touring-smart sets flew in and out seemingly effortlessly, while Tom Ruzika’s lighting plot became the victim of new venue, opening night lags.; Apart from Lancelot’s undergear looking more like a James Dean T-shirt than garments fit for a Knight of the Round Table, Marcy Froehlich’s costumes were a constant pleasure with just the right amount of glistening skin and shimmering fabric to keep the eye as engaged as the ear.
The moralizing tale (“words” not “arms” to settle disputes) couldn’t come at a better time. But that change in those who could make a world of difference by having the courage of their own convictions instead of following the clatter of hawks will leave Camelot’s message in the faraway land of make-believe. JWR