The legendary writing team of Lerner and Loewe late in their collaborative career had another big hit that these days is less of a household name than My Fair Lady. Camelot is their version of the familiar tale of King Arthur, his Queen Guinevere and a love lost to his trusted knight Sir Lancelot, the dream that was Camelot crumbling in the wake of their affair.
Under the nimble direction of David Lee, the Two River Theater’s revival is lively, doubling down on interpersonal charm in lieu of elaborate pageantry. The result is a production that focuses on ethical and psychological turmoil while not stinting on the singing and dancing.
The narrative picks up with Guinevere ruing the marriage her father has arranged for her (Lerner and Loewe have no problem giving Guinevere a song longing for a rough woodsman to come along and snatch her up). Arthur stumbles upon her and wins her affection with his humble charm before revealing that he is in fact her betrothed. King and queen unite (following a musical Excalibur flashback), and live in bliss for a time: Arthur conceives of the court of the roundtable, gathers his knights, while Guinevere stays faithfully by his side.
Hotshot French knight Lancelot shows up to dedicate himself to Arthur’s Round Table. He is the epitome of devotion, self-sacrifice, and duty; he’s also the kind of man who’s more than happy to tell you just how perfect he is. His cockiness irks Guinevere and so she sets up contests designed to bring him down, but Lancelot wins all the tests along with her heart.
The two begin an illicit and none-too-subtle affair which will test not only the bonds of love and friendship they each have with Arthur, but also the fidelity and tenability of the Round Table itself, a social experiment based on noble ideals like loyalty, honesty, and integrity. The main source of tension revolves around the question of what Arthur will do in the face of such an open affront to his honor, and how that decision will affect the idealism of Camelot..
The production has a strong sense of stripped-down theatricality. The versatile multi-level set, made up of stairs, ladders, and platforms, serves just as effectively as the court at Camelot as it does a clearing in the woods, a battlefield, or the site of a knights’ tournament; the cast regularly announces the setting and the season, and the effect as a whole is more organic than engineered, well suited to the Two Rivers’ space.
The show is heavy on song with the dialogue often feeling little more than a means of transitioning between songs—but the cast is full of strong singers and even though their characters are not the most complex or dynamic, Britney Coleman (Guinevere), Oliver Thornton (Arthur), and Nicholas Rodriguez (Lancelot) each succeed in finding depth in their roles.