The Gleaming Promise of CAMELOT — Review
The kingdom’s gotten a whole lot younger, and beautifully more agile, in Lincoln Center Theater’s latest revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Solidly directed by Bartlet Sherr from an updated book by Aaron Sorkin, it presents the legend as not too far from a commoner’s reach, but all the more entrancing for its identifiability.
In a solemn, mythical introduction, Merlyn (Dakin Matthews) gives way to our royal couple: Andrew Burnap, as the ne’er-do-well pretty boy King Arthur, and Phillipa Soo as a knife-wielding, take no prisoners Guenevere. Their marriage of convenience is shaken by the introduction of Lancelot (a sexy, swaggering Jordan Donica), whose physical prowess threatens to sweep the independent Queen off her feet and leads to a stunning sword fight, brilliantly choreographed by Byron Easley.
But lo! Another feudal twink enters the court: Arthur’s secret son, Mordred (Taylor Trensch), from the King’s long-ago encounter with the spooky scientist Morgan Le Fey (Marilee Talkington). The devious offspring sets off a series of improbably intricate events to sow chaos in the kingdom by activating the resentments of the rest of the round table’s knights.
Soo’s performance is a golden highlight of the entire season. Her voice can be muscular, featherlight, torrential or lilting, as is needed, and her royal comportment carries the same exasperated whimsy as Julie Andrews, the role’s originator. A tableau towards the end of the first act in which she looks over her décolleté shoulder, away from Lancelot, is the stuff of Sargent paintings. And, though Jennifer Moeller’s costumes are all-around terrific, hers are designed and fitted so gorgeously, to the point where I half-expected a “Miss Soo’s Gowns By” credit at the end, like an old Grace Kelly movie.
But these set up an ungainly balance with the rest of the production design which, though lovely, is not what we’ve come to expect from Lincoln Center Theater’s usually jaw-dropping mises-en-scène. 59 Productions’ projections are often astonishing in their all-enveloping largeness, but Bartlett Sher’s production, as a whole, could use a bit more grandiosity. His staging of the “Fie on Goodness” number, a dynamic triptych that juxtaposes Arthur/Morgan, Guenevere/Lancelot, and the mutinous knights is bathed in courtroom noir lighting by Lap Chi Chu, suggesting a more directly Sorkin approach to the material that more or less starts and ends there.
If this Camelot is a bit confused on whether it wants to be a majestic golden age musical or a gritty take on the shaky foundations of a monarchical ménage à trois, it pulls through on the strength of its cast, which tightly brings the work’s brief shining moment into glorious light.
Camelot is in performance through June 25, 2023 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre on West 65th Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.