Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is that all there is?

I'm not very fond of Camelot as a show--weak characters and plot, horribly insipid songs mixed in with some clever ones--but it remains a popular show with audiences and producing companies. On Saturday evening, July 13, I saw the opening night performance of Camelot at Glimmerglass, and I must say the work by Messrs. Lerner and Loewe suffered considerably by comparison to the amazing Fliegende Holländer I'd seen there on Friday evening. It truly pains me to report that, much as I love Glimmerglass as a festival and their work as a whole, I did not love this show.

David Pittsinger as Arthur
Photo by Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass
I won't say the show suffered for lack of effort on the part of the talented cast. From the beautiful and charming Guinevere of Adriana Chuchman, whose name I knew but whose work I didn't, to the extremely hard working and lively ensemble of music theater Young Artists, there wasn't a single person on stage I could fault for lack of enthusiasm or ability. Some of the opera-singer cast were less comfortable with spoken dialogue than others, but sometimes stilted and stentorian works in this style of musical.

Parts of this production were beautifully executed, but the whole in this case was less than the sum of the parts. Just as with Fliegende Holländer, Camelot was visually quite beautiful. While more subdued in color and excitement than James Noone's sets for Holländer, those of Kevin Depinet for Camelot had a similar dramatic impact. The ever-present tree (of the knowledge of good and evil?) in which Arthur, and then Mordrid, and then young Tom of Warwick hide and emerge was very cleverly constructed. The castle in the sky as metaphor and as real image were both also very beautifully and creatively executed. The costumes by Paul Tazewell were all quite a treat for the eye (although I have to fear for the welfare of the cast in such heavily constructed costumes under stage lights on hot summer nights and afternoons).

Wynn Harmon, Adriana Chuchman, ensemble of Young Artists
Photo by Karli Cadel for Glimmerglass
The singing was all very good. I especially liked Adriana Chuchman as Guinevere. She's a lovely young soprano with a beautiful instrument, and she did have convincing charm and sweetness. Nathan Gunn, who unfortunately kept his shirt on for the entire show, exuded comic appeal as as Lancelot, especially in his introductory song, "C'est moi!"  As his character became more human and less cartoonish, however, the charm occasionally went missing. David Pittsinger is an excellent singer, and was a pleasure to hear as Arthur, but otherwise was a bit wooden on stage. Music theater veteran Wynn Harmon was a delight as Pellinore, but a bit less delightful as Merlyn. I can not fail to mention the Young Artists Clay Hilley, Noel Bouley, and Wayne Hu as the young knights Patty, Maxine and Laverne Sir  Dinadan, Sir Lionel, and Sir Sagramore.

Directorial weakness littered this production from beginning to end. Principals knew where to move but not always how to relate to each other. The ensemble was over-choreographed but not really terribly involved. The few characters who seemed to have thoughts and personalities of their own were portrayed by veteran musical theater actors who likely had done the same roles one or two dozen times before. I'm told director Robert Longbottom was a last-minute replacement for another director, which might explain some of the issues I describe.

Judging by what I heard of other audience members' reactions, I seem to be quite in the minority in some of my opinions. There was a great deal of cheering and thunderous applause at the end, and I saw many a smile as the audience left. For that reason alone, I tell you to go see this show and report back to me on your impressions.

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