The royal robes have served Lou Diamond Phillips well, first in the Rialto’s “The King & I” and now playing King Arthur as he succeeds Michael York in the national tour of Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot.” There’s a certain amount of kingly crossover in the perf, especially in the royal declarations that play to the back rows. But this crowned head has issues of confidence from the get-go, which makes the king’s learning curve a different sort of dynamic. Diamond plays these human notes well — and also proves that you don’t have to have an English accent to rule Britannia.
As in his Broadway role, Phillips, now bewigged with shoulder-length “Excalibur” tresses, brings a long-lost sexiness to Arthur. He plays opposite Rachel de Benedet’s zesty, self-possessed Guenevere, and together they convey a true royal union. Phillips connects in endearing ways with his queen, first in playful, meet-cute fashion and then more maturely when the kingdom begins to crumble after Lancelot (Matt Bogart) enters the tapestry.
It also can’t hurt that the multiethnic lead indirectly taps into the current real-world zeitgeist of another charismatic leader of mixed heritage, inspiring idealism and hope in an unruly world.
Phillips’ thin voice is less successful in the singing than in book scenes, but in his perf he still delivers with royal assuredness and dispatch, and there’s enough talk-singing to ride over his musical rough spots. Benedet and Bogart deliver the musical goods, especially Lancelot’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” still swoonable after all these years.
Under helmer Glenn Casale, most of the show is presented briskly, though routinely. “Routine” is the operative word for this touring production, with so-so dancing, serviceable costumes and functional scenery. The small ensemble makes this a tiny kingdom, a Camelittle.
Though this more compact version of Alan Jay Lerner’s cumbersome book, adapted and edited by his son, seems less endless than in earlier versions, it still sags. The overabundance of backstory has not been solved, and neither Lerner pere nor fils quite weaves the magical and human elements together. (Mordred remains a problematic character, and his song is a dud; Merlin vanishes after a few scenes; a few other mythical characters come and go.)
What makes an audience last through the May dances, processions, pronouncements, swordplay and less-than-enchanting subplots is the very human love triangle. And the trio of solid leads serve that key element well.