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.