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Theatre Review (LA): Camelot by Lerner and Lowe at the Pasadena Playhouse

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Camelot can be a difficult show to put on both because of its length and its familiarity. David Lee, the producer of Cheers, Wings, and Frasier, has been very active in recent years directing shows around town, including the award-winning Can Can at the Pasadena Playhouse. He has now brought us his most recent project, Camelot, in a cut-down version using only eight actors and a minimal but very serviceable set by Tom Buderwitz.

The idea was to present a rethought production to highlight the main story of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenevere. Shrunken productions seem to be all the rage thanks to the economy, with the success of Chicago, Company, and Sweeney Todd etc. There was lots of hype about this show, about the actors playing instruments (as in Company) and its trimmed script (no Pelinore and his dogs), and, most publicized, a nude scene that was to bring the show up to date. Sad to say these “innovations” were only partially successful.

With the cutting of the comedy scenes, Lee has seen fit to add some supposedly funny business to the show: a silly “The Lusty Month of May” and a bird on a string for the hunting scene. The result is that the story is trivialized, and instead of a lovely scene about spring, we get a silly scene about knights wearing wreaths of flowers. Instead of a scene which foreshadows Mordred’s treachery, we get a vaudeville routine about a bird.

There was only one instrument played on stage, plus a drum thrown in for good measure. As for the nude scene, it was a total embarrassment; it seemed gratuitous and it distracted from Arthur’s important final speech in Act One (which the actor lacked the gravitas to pull off). The King Arthur of Shannon Stoeke was well acted but didn’t change the entire evening. Likewise the Lancelot of the big-voiced Doug Carpenter, and the strong voice of Shannon Warne as Guenevere didn’t offset the fact that this production was passionless and thus not as affecting as the show is meant to be. I also missed the use of a real child in the final scene.

This Camelot succeeds more than some, but still remains flat on the stage thanks to David Lee's conception. Camelot plays at the Pasadena Playhouse until February 7th.

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About Robert Machray

  • CB

    I was privileged enough to be in the audience tonight for the final performance of this show and I feel that the author of this article completely missed the mark of the show. I was so moved by that passion, heart and genuine spirit of the show and couldn’t have asked for a better re-imagining of such a classic.
    My only wish is that more people weren’t able to experience the show.

  • CB

    *My only REGRET is that more people weren’t able to experience the show. 🙂 (sorry about that mistake)

  • Jonathan

    I disagree with this reviewer’s negative review. The humorous treatment of ‘May’ and the bird scene was successful and did not at all detract from the real drama at the heart of the play. The nude scene shockingly confirmed and punctuated Arthur’s grief. I saw the Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Camelot twice, and was enchanted both times. If there are serious flaws in Lerner’s original book, they were eliminated by director David Lee’s rewrites, and the result was a tight-paced, stirring story that is still resonating with me, two days after the performance. Here is not a typical love story of two lovers conquering all, but rather a heroic tragedy of a man, a good man, nobly submlimating his passions in pursuit of a higher ideal: the rule of law. Shannon Stoeke plays Arthur with both boyish enthusiasm/naivete, flashing a brilliant smile to the back rows, and also a kingly authority and determination that overcomes his slighter stature. Doug Carpenter, an Ashton Kutcher look-a-like, is a likable Lancelot with a sterling voice, and Shannon Warne takes Guenevere’s character flaws with a seriousness that maintains realism, but does not forsake lightness. Her fine singing voice shifts from beauty to power at exactly the right moments and to the right degree. Sir Sagramore, as one of the three stock knights, is supposed to be forgettable character, but Andrew Ross Wynn milked the part for all it was worth and stood out as especially funny and memorable. Of all the shows that I have seen at the Pasadena Playhouse, and that number is significant, this was the show that was most enjoyable and excellent. A fine way to end this chapter of the Playhouse’s history.