NY Philharmonic partially staged version

Attended:  May 10, 2008. Lincoln Center

Reviewed on air on May 22 (short version on May 14)

(also see Camelot by the White Plains Performing Arts Center - September 26, 2008)

Camelot’s limited run is over, but surely worth reporting on.  It played five performances earlier this month and demonstrates that the NY Philharmonic has other tricks up its sleeve than just classical music.  This partially staged, fully costumed and choreographed version of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot has its strengths.  The message, uplifting in an unusual way, urges the audience to keep high values and not give up their principles in the face of failure.

King Arthur establishes the famously egalitarian round table around which his knights sit.  Each has a voice without positional advantage.  Unfortunately the human propensity for violence and vanquishing an enemy are too strong and Arthur is doomed to failure.  But seeds are planted for the future and that is the message.  Even if you don’t see success, hold out for it, for posterity if necessary.  Plant a tree even though you will not be around to enjoy its shade or the song of nesting birds.

Not by accident was this production scheduled in May.  The lively, toe-tapping “The Lusty Month of May” is one of the hottest production numbers in the play.  The title song, “Camelot,” also resonates familiarly bringing us back to the 1960 Broadway production which starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet.

Some of the casting is great.  Marin Mazzie, who also played in Broadway’s “Spamalot,” the Monty Python spoof of the King Arthur legend, has great stage presence and a fine voice.  Nathan Gunn is great as Lancelot, the swaggering, yet consummately brave warrior.  Not to mention all the actors, most of whom were good, but one must address the casting of Gabriel Byrne and the direction of Lonny Price.

Byrne has achieved his share of fame recently with his role in HBO’s IN TREATMENT, in which he plays a therapist.  It may be his popularity with women that even got him this role. Not being a singer isn’t the problem, as neither Richard Burton nor Richard Harris, who both preceded him as Arthur, was a singer.  Arthur’s ascension to the throne is by chance, as opposed to valor or heritage.  He pulls the vaunted sword, Excalibur, from its stone and by that act gains the throne.  So we presume the gods wish to promote peace.  But Price’s direction leaves Arthur flat, almost wussy.  Sure you can be peaceful, but that takes courage as great as going to battle.  Arthur displays no such heroic quality.

Little wonder that Lancelot steals Guenevere’s affection so easily from such a man.

We are not destined to know whether or not Gabriel Byrne would have played up to the role of a gutsy rather than diffident king.  Shame that.  He isn’t a bad actor, but we can’t tell from this role if he is a good one.