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Camelot

The realm of Camelot has "far and away the most equitable climate in all the world." The same, alas, can't be said for London in the summer. Midway through the first act of a matinee, the rain began and kept on going. This being Britain, so did the show, and eventually the sun, Camelot-style, came shining forth.

The realm of Camelot, we’re told early on in the none-too-deservedly fabled Lerner & Loewe musical of the same name, has “far and away the most equitable climate in all the world.” The same, alas, can’t be said for London in the summer. Following on the glorious 2003 heat wave, summer 2004 has been far more variable, which poses a problem for al fresco theater. I failed in my first go at seeing “Camelot” on a rainy Monday, though the skies — sod’s law, as they say in Blighty — cleared within minutes of the show being canceled, and I thought I was going to be second time unlucky in my follow-up attempt: Midway through the first act of a matinee three days later, the rain began and kept on going. This being Britain, so did the show, and eventually the sun, Camelot-style, came shining forth.

And what of the show? More than a little waterlogged, to be honest, though by no means the outdoors equivalent of the concurrent Sadler’s Wells staging of “Singin’ in the Rain,” with Adam Cooper getting drenched nightly even if the audience stays dry. Seeing “Camelot” for the first time in years, one is struck by how it trades on its pertinence to a given place and time — America during and immediately after the Kennedy years — in the absence of much that, today anyway, seems especially compelling about the musical itself.

There has been talk for several seasons now of a Broadway revival to star Liam Neeson. On the evidence of director Ian Talbot’s Open Air Theater production, this once-mythical slice of Broadway needs serious surgery if it is to survive a fresh commercial run.

The Regent’s Park venue, one of London’s loveliest, doesn’t have such imperatives: The aim here is for a diverting seasonal rep that this summer finds “Camelot” the lone musical alongside “The Wind in the Willows,” “Henry IV, Part 1,” and — a regular at this address — “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” And, truth to tell, one is inclined to be a lot more forgiving, confronted with an upbeat, often barefoot cast scampering about in the wind and the wet, confronted with a sea of faces hidden by umbrellas. The “Camelot” company is certainly game, and rather more than that with veteran comedian Russ Abbot on hand as Pellinore to make bunny rabbit noises and generally do whatever’s necessary to raise a laugh.

A chuckle or two is welcome in the context of an Alan Jay Lerner book that remains an astonishing mixture of the smug, the pompous and the patronizing (as in song title “What Do the Simple Folk Do”). In another production, you might get some modern-day mileage out of the anxiety of a self-doubting ruler, Arthur (Daniel Flynn), who wants more than anything else for might to be right: a radical thought in 2004, methinks.

But the show’s agonized self-doubting and solemnity don’t begin to square with a prevailing feyness that sets in well before the dreaded Morgan Le Fey (Ellen O’Grady) appears for a second-act duet with Mark Hilton’s campily villainous Mordred — the number is called “The Persuasion” — that I don’t recall hearing in any production of “Camelot” before. On the other hand, at the perf caught, Guinevere’s solo “I Loved You Once in Silence” was never sung, despite being clearly cited in the program.

That’s a shame, since Lauren Ward’s clarion-like soprano is one of the virtues of the production, the odd lapse into screechiness notwithstanding. Matt Rawle’s Lancelot is vigorously sung, too, though one must wonder what anyone could make of a terminally narcissistic character who announces “I am irritating” and is.

As Arthur, the russet-haired Flynn can’t really sing, but in context that scarcely matters: His idealized Camelot is a land devoted to sun, and on an intermittently showery afternoon, who among us isn’t right there with him?

Camelot

Open Air Theater/Regent's Park, London; 1,181 Seats; £28 ($50.40) Top

  • Production: An Open Air Theater, Regent's Park, presentation of a musical in two acts with music by Frederick Loewe, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Directed by Ian Talbot.
  • Crew: Choreography, Gillian Gregory. Sets and costumes, Paul Farnsworth; lighting, Jason Taylor; sound, Simon Whitehorn; fight director, Terry King; musical director, Catherine Jayes; musical arranger, Steven Edis. Opened July 23, 2004. Reviewed Aug. 12. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.
  • Cast: Arthur - Daniel Flynn Guinevere - Lauren Ward Lancelot - Matt Rawle Pellinore - Russ Abbot Merlyn - Raymond Bowers Mordred - Mark Hilton Morgan Le Fey - Ellen O'Grady Sir Dinadan - Nicholas Pound Sir Lionel - Nick Bonner <b>With:</b> Oliver Hume, Gareth Jones, Ben Hicks, Sophie Bould, Leanne Rogers, Oliver Beamish, Jenny Fitzpatrick, Jordan Frieda, Graham James, Richard Reynard, Lucy Thatcher. <B>Musical numbers:</B> "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight," "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," "Camelot," "Follow Me," "C'est Moi," "The Lusty Month of May," "Take Me to the Fair," "How to Handle a Woman," "The Jousts," "Before I Gaze at You Again," "Fie on Goodness," "If Ever I Would Leave You," "The Seven Deadly Virtues," "What Do the Simple Folk Do," "The Persuasion," "Guinevere."