Reviewed by Will Stackman
Almost 45 years after its preview at Boston's Shubert Theatre in 1960, Camelot, now a classic from the oeuvre of Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is back. This version of the Arthurian legend, based on T.H.White's popular "Sword in the Stone" trilogy is the second show of the North Shore Music Theatre's fall season in exile, as they rebuild from this summer's fire. The production is not without its ghosts. Not only because of its connection to JFK, but because the work was so particularly tailored to its original cast and their strong points. Arthur was Richard Burton's only venture onto the musical stage. His modest Welsh singing voice lent a particular poignance to the once and future king. Joseph Dellger playing this role now is a much more accomplished singer, and convincing in his own right, without Burton's implicit stature, but more achingly human. Young Nili Bassman can't match Julie Andrew's pure English soprano, but is personally engaging as Guenevere. Parisian Maxine Alvarez De Toledo as Launcelot however has a more convincing French accent than Canadian Robert Goulet and much more charisma. Josh Grisetti, a BosCon grad working mostly in New York, is a thoroughly creepy Mordred, somewhat a parody of Roddy MacDowell's dour Scot, but ominous enough. He spends the first act watching the show from the stage left box. Award-winning director Gabriel Barre, who himself started his acting career headed for Broadway in "Rags" when it tried out here at the Shubert, has tried in a small way to move the show into the house as it would have played at NSMT. The stage right box is used several times for royal viewing. Launcelot enters striding down the right aisle; the boy flees up the left one at the end.
The most interesting development in Barre's reconception of "Camelot" is the use of the boy, Tom of Warwick. Played by Adam Wylie, who may be remembered as the kid on "Picket Fences", Tom appears at the opening dressed in jeans. sneakers, and a baseball cap to cue the orchestra and raise the curtain. He's next seen as Merlyn in a tatterdemalion outfit, lecturing "Wart", growing younger as the wizard tries to remember the future. The boy continues in minor roles throughout the show as a page, privy to all the goings on, and even voices Morgan Le Fey, who's presented as a giant piggish puppet.. Wylie doesn't sing until the penultimate "Guenevere" as he tells the story of her rescue, So it's much more logical when Arthur knights him at the end and sends the boy forth to keep the legend alive. His voice is adequate, in character, but undistinguished. This number would be stronger split between several participants in the action of both sexes with Tom as a bridge.
The comic relief of the show, KIng Pellicle, is handled with his usual flair by IRNE winner David Coffee, NSMT's perennial Scrooge, an oversized Don Quixote from Arthur's childhood who follows him until the end. A wooden puppet dog completes his questing outfit of battered armor. Barre has also added three mythical animals; dancers dressed as a unicorn, a black swan, and Merlyn's owl. The latter has the least to do and needs a moment of its own, perhaps flushing "Wart" from his hiding place in the tree, but such fancies help establish the mythic nature of the show. Mordred makes his first entrance onto the stage itself through a small trap downstage center, then sits with feet dangling into the orchestra pit at the end of "The Seven Deadly Virtues" and vanishes into it immediately thereafter. There are a lot of fresh notions in the show, but Barre and his stalwart cast hew to the original rather serious moral, that might doesn't make right, especially between states. This Cold War plea for tolerance and understanding, for negotiation and mutual respect, has new resonance.
The music direction of Robert Russell Bennett's lush orchestrations is well handled by Bill Stanley even with a reduced pit. Patricia Wilcox manages the musical staging and choreography quite crisply, with the help of fight specialist, J. David Brimmer. Patricia Scofield, who did "Tom Jones" and "Memphis" with Barre at NSMT, has created a detailed costume plot which doesn't pale in comparison to the Adrian originals. She got assistance from armorer Helen Fuller. The original scenic design by Michael Anania for NSMT's arena has been expertly reinterpreted for the Shubert's traditional proscenium by Jerome Martin, who also worked on "Tom Jones." The subscription audience can imagine how the show might have looked in the round, perhaps enough to request its return in the near future. NSMT's production operation, with fifty years of practice, can really put on a show. It would not be surprising to see another presentation or two at the Schubert, in collaboration with the Wang Center, in a year or two. As a final irony, "Camelot" will be followed into this venerable old house, which has been too often dark recently, by the pre-Broadway run of Julie Andrew's production of "The Boyfriend." And NSMT's firmly committed to opening "The Full Monty" back in their own house in Beverley on Nov. 1. Heading up that show, George Dvorsky, NSMT's favorite leading man, is already in town, appearing in a benefit concert production of "On the Twentieth Century" opposite Alice Ripley just up the street at the old Majestic, now the flagship of Emerson College's Theatre Program. Boston's fabulous invalids march on.