Review: ‘Camelot’

The legend of King Arthur takes place in 6th-century Britain, and has been around nearly as long. So, too, has the current revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1960 Broadway hit musicalization of one segment of the myth.

The legend of King Arthur takes place in 6th-century Britain, and has been around nearly as long. So, too, has the current revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 Broadway hit musicalization of one segment of the myth. Already road-weary when it visited Broadway last July after eight months in the provinces, the production has at last puffed, panting, into the Pantages Theater for a two-week run — reduced from four, following surgery on its star and virtual only raison d’etre, Robert Goulet.

Thirty-three years have passed since Goulet was pulled from a starring role in a Toronto TV series to create Sir Lancelot in the original production; currently, he’s essaying the role of Arthur, created by Richard Burton.

A problematic though popular play when it debuted, “Camelot” has not improved with age. Its story has gaping holes (a major character and another’s pet dog disappear forever after their establishing scenes); its politics are old-fashioned, if not archaic; and its morality is wishy-washy.

Anachronisms begin with a character in the first scene using a telescope, which wouldn’t be invented for at least another three centuries, and continue through the medieval costumes and a joking reference to fax machines.

Still, there are a couple of hit songs, hints of real moral conflict for an enthusiastic cast and talented director (if not this particular cast and director) to bring out, and several potentially appealing characters.

Goulet is not Richard Burton, but he’s still peerless at playing Robert Goulet, which is exactly what he does here. It’s an appropriate attack in such a star-driven vehicle, and Goulet’s fans should be pleased to see the singer looking and sounding so good.

The rest of the cast varies. Patricia Kies plays Guenevere as if she’d spent every waking hour listening to the original cast of “My Fair Lady,” here capturing Julie Andrews’ “posh” and Cockney accents from time to time, no matter how inappropriate.

In the touring show’s main cast change, Richard White has taken over the role of narcissistic Lancelot from Steve Blanchard. Sketchily written, Lancelot isn’t much of a part but does get the show’s best-known song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which he belts out like a young Goulet.

James Valentine plays the doddering Pellinore as if he’d wandered in from another show — “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” perhaps. But however broad and low the comedy, it and Tucker McCrady’s evil Mordred give a desperately needed injection of vitality in a show where most of the cast give the impression that they’d rather be just about anywhere else.

Camelot

Pantages Theater, Hollywood; 2,700 seats; $60 top

Production

Music Fair Prods. Inc. presents a musical in two acts with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Director/choreographer, Norbert Joerder.

Creative

Scenic production; lights, Neil Peter Jampolis; costumes, Franne Lee; sound, Tom Morse; musical director, John Visser; executive producer, Shelly Gross. Opened Dec. 28, 1993; reviewed Dec. 30; runs through Jan. 9, 1994.

Cast

Sir Dinadan - Richard Smith
Sir Lionel - Virl Andrick
Merlyn/Pellinore - James Valentine
Arthur - Robert Goulet
Sir Sagramore - William Paul Michals
Lady Anne - Jean Mahlmann
Guenevere - Patricia Kies
Nimue - Vanessa Shaw
Lancelot - Richard White
Dap - Newton R. Gilchrist
Pellinore - James Valentine
Horrid, the Dog - Jill
Mordred - Tucker McCrady
Tom of Warwick - Chris Van Stander
With: Steve Asciolla, Ben Starr Coates, Shelly Cohen, Ned Coulter, William Thomas Evans, Randall Graham, Theresa Hudson, Catherine Hughes, Chuck Muckle, Donald Ives, Karen Longwell, Andie Mellom, Raymond Sage, Barbara Scanlon.
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