Westport Country Playhouse

Despite possessing a glorious score, Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s classic musical “Camelot” is generally known as being a somewhat “book heavy” show.  Consequently, many stagings of this show over the years have made cuts to the script, in order to make the musical less unwieldy.  I doubt, however, that any production of “Camelot” has ever been as streamlined as the one currently running at Westport Country Playhouse.  Indeed, even with an intermission, the total length of this production of “Camelot” clocks in at just slightly over two hours. (David Lee is responsible for the new book adaptation). But one of the dangers of cutting so much of the book is that the plot can be shortchanged.

It is sad to report that Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Camelot” suffers from simply being too cut down.  This is most unfortunate because, in many key respects, this staging of the musical gets a lot of things right, especially when it comes to the performances of the three leads and the general majesty of the production.

However, if the plot doesn’t come together like it should, no amount of virtues is going to fix the problem.  Without giving too much away, this “Camelot” has been cut down to the point that the two central love stories don’t quite ring true simply because this production is too short, robbing the stories of getting the chance to be fully developed.  Any new production of “Camelot” is a reason for celebration, but Westport Country Playhouse’s staging of this musical ultimately left me unsatisfied.

Before getting to the central problems in this production, it is worth hailing the good things about the show.  Crucially, the three lead roles have been exceedingly well-cast.  Robert Sean Leonard turns out to be a magnificent King Arthur, possessing all the grandeur required for the role,  As his wife, Guenevere, the rich-voiced  Britney Coleman is something of a cross between Vanessa Williams and Audra McDonald, but she manages to shine distinctly as her own unique actress.  And perhaps the best news is that Westport Country Playhouse has found an ideal Lancelot in Stephen Mark Lukas, who sings like an angel, looks wonderful in Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes (actually all the costumes in the show are remarkable) and he can break your heart with his sensitive acting.

However, all these assets don’t quite add up the way they should.  The main problem of this “Camelot” is that, since the script has been so whittled down, the production doesn’t allow its three sterling stars to develop the relationships that are essential to the telling of the story in the show.  To be more specific, there simply isn’t time for King Arthur and Guenevere and Lancelot to believably form a love triangle that is crucial to the musical‘s plot.  And, without these relationships being suitably established, the musical as a whole simply falls short.

This is most unfortunate, because the entire cast is quite good (though the show could have used more women than just Guenevere) and the production, as a whole, is quite lavish, with fine set design by Michael Yeargan (just get a look at that Medieval backdrop!) and incisive lighting design by Robert Wierzel.  What’s more, music director Wayne Barker leads a fine orchestra of eight, with the wonderful score getting its full due, with pleasing new orchestrations by Steve Orich.

All of this sadly fails to add up to a fully satisfying whole, however.  Director Mark Lamos and his choreographer Connor Gallagher do excellent work staging the show and, as stated, it is something of an occasion to see a new production of “Camelot,” especially with a cast and production that is this grand.  But there is simply no way to get around the fact that the new book doesn’t flesh out the story like it should and, therefore, Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Camelot” must ultimately rank as something of a missed opportunity.

“Camelot” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through November 5, 2016.  For tickets, please visit http://www.westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.

Photo (L-R): Britney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas

Photo by Carol Rosegg

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