Sunday, July 21, 2013

Camelot: ☼ ☼ ☼

Arthur, the once and future King, seems firmly in charge of the Kingdom of Camelot, though if it were up to us we'd side with Lancelot. In this 2013 revival of Lerner and Loewe's 1960 "Camelot," which has become inextricably linked with the early days of the Kennedy administration, King Arthur (Johnny Moreno) is pictured as a dreamer who has come up with a really good idea (the round table) but afterwards has become imprisoned by his own ideology. His relative malaise makes it easy to understand how lovely Queen Guenevere (Monique Hafen) could become infatuated with the French knight and zealot Lancelot (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). You've got a king who talks versus a knight who fights. In the words of a don from a future generation (Michael Corleone): "It was the smart move."

The problem that Lerner and Loewe always had with "Camelot' is that it followed "My Fair Lady." Nobody writes a "My Fair Lady" twice in a row and neither did Lerner and Loewe. So a lot of the music, while pretty good, feels like an out-take from the earlier show. You see Henry Higgins in red velvet whenever Johnny Moreno sings those clever-to-a-fault Broadway lyrics. Like Nina Ball's ruined castle walls on stage, the songs feel a little ancient.

Welcome additions are two tunes that have been restored from the original stage production: "Fi on 
Goodness," sung by all those slovenly Knights who look like they are about to shout "What's in YOUR Wallet?" and "Then You May Take Me to the Fair," where Queen Guenevere is attempting to turn the local lords against the French usurper Lancelot. For us, the other standout is Lancelot's fabulous "C'est Moi," where he manages to tell the world of his incomparable greatness without feeling the least bit self-conscious. Heredia owns this song, as, in many ways, he owns the entire production.

Charles Dean is also excellent, both as Merlyn and King Pelinor. The show is terrific from the opening through most of Act One. After that, it begins to drag. The ending feels abrupt, though in character for a King who seems to prefer being just about anywhere else but in charge.

"Camelot," which was Lerner and Loewe's last stage collaboration and as such harkens back to the golden age of Broadway, is always a must for theater-lovers. We would like to see Johnny Moreno, who was so good in last year's SFP production of "My Fair Lady," a little more dialed in. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Monique Hafen and Charles Dean are perfect. It's a long summer run and everyone's sword will get a little sharper.

RATINGS:   ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Camelot" Three Stars. We get squabbling knights, political ineptitude, sword fights and betrayal: perfect summertime entertainment.

San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
(second floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
Through September 14