‘Camelot’ rides valiantly into Irving’s Lyric Theatre
IRVING — Composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner have one of the great achievements of American musical theater with 1956’s My Fair Lady, a remarkable adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion. Four years later they did it again with Camelot, using the King Arthur legend as told in T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King.
Camelot may not receive the same adoration as My Fair Lady, but Lyric Stage’s current revival makes the case that it should. That’s thanks to sensitive direction by Len Pfluger and musical director/conductor Jay Dias’ use of the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang with choral and dance arrangements by Trude Rittman. The 38-member orchestra captures the score’s nuances, including harp and English horn, under Dias’ lively conducting.
It begins on Cornelius Parker’s simple but striking set, of a circular platform (a reference to the round table) with a large tree (designed by Bob Lavallee) with heavy branches and roots, with Arthur (J. Brent Alford) and Guenevere (Kristen Beth Williams) meeting almost Adam and Eve-like (but clothed).
Sin will come — with a lot of gray area. The genius of White’s fantasy and this musical is how it looks at justice and power through the lens of compassion and forgiveness. Lancelot (Christopher J. Deaton) later arrives in the kingdom, and he and Guenevere slowly fall in love. It’s not instant, as we see in too many musicals, and we feel the attraction growing with each scene.
Fort Worth’s Alford starred in Lyric’s last Lerner/Loewe revival, of My Fair Lady, and once again shows his skill with an English gent, although Arthur is not the cad that Higgins is. He’s even more complicated in this portrayal.
Kristen’s father, James Williams, is a Lyric regular and is in the ensemble here. They share the stage for the first time in 19 years. She was terrific in the recent tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in Dallas, and her expressive face has more layers as the Lady torn between love and loyalty, heart and brain. She uses both. Her performance of the song Before I Gaze at You Again is as close to definitive as I’ve heard it (although there shouldn’t be any definitives in musical theater).
Deaton has grown in range at Lyric, no doubt thanks to Dias’ teaching and influence. Lancelot is often seen as a stiff character, and Deaton handles that with delicacy. Sonny Franks brings his welcome humor to the role of Pellinor (and handles the gorgeous English Sheepdog Charlie B., playing Horrid), while newcomer Brandon McInnis fills up on the scenery as Mordred. A trio of handsome Sirs, Drew Shafranek (a Fort Worth Opera apprentice), Clay Thompson and Trevor Martin, are welcome new faces and voices.
If you haven’t discovered musicals at Lyric, performed with full orchestra splendor, this is a great production for that introduction. It looks and sounds marvelous, and director Pfluger plumbs the depths of a story you think you know well.