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  • Theater, Musicals
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Andrew Burnap (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusCamelot

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Lerner and Loewe's musical returns to Broadway in a disenchanted revival.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of Camelot has an air of last respects. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 musical about King Arthur, inspired by T. H. White’s 1958 story collection The Once and Future King, suffered in comparison with the team’s previous show, My Fair Lady. But through its association with John F. Kennedy after his assassination, the show was imbued with sentimental value from whose interest it has lived off since. Director Bartlett Sher does not treat Camelot with blind reverence—its weakest element, Lerner’s original book, has been significantly revised by Aaron Sorkin—but the production projects the overarching sense of a beloved old property being propped up beyond its strength. 

A fantasy about a mythical past, Camelot is built on nostalgia, and its previous Broadway revivals relied on that: Their Arthurs were played by Richard Burton (who had created the role), Richard Harris (who had played it in the film) and Robert Goulet (who had played Sir Lancelot in the original opposite Burton). This one tries a different approach. In keeping with the medieval-royals-are-just-like-us dimension of Lerner’s writing—exemplified in such songs as “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"—Andrew Burnap’s youthful king is floppy-haired, self-deprecating and ironical. Though he tries to change the world for the better by assembling a collective of justice-minded peers, he is tongue-tied around his arranged-marriage queen, Guenevere (Phillipa Soo, composed as always).

This Arthur reigns in a world that is more practical than magical: In addition to making the dialogue snappier and more contemporary, Sorkin has purged Camelot of miracles. The wizard Merlin (Dakin Matthews) is just a wise old man, the pious French knight Lancelot (Jordan Donica) no longer brings a corpse to life, Morgan Le Fey (a magisterially severe Marilee Talkington) is a scientist instead of a witch and Arthur—who rose to power by removing a sword from a stone—is now the lucky beneficiary of countless other would-be kings who had loosened it for him in advance. Sorkin’s Camelot is ruled by politics, not enchantment; it’s a modern-minded fable of good government undone by all-too-human scandal.  

Camelot | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

In theory, this is a promising tack. So why does the production feel so listless? The problem is not that Sorkin changes too much; it’s that he doesn’t, or can’t, change enough. The musical he’s trying to write is tethered to material that won’t cooperate: Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot has a champagne score, albeit slightly flattened, where Sorkin’s calls for Scotch. The wit of Lerner’s lyrics is fundamentally light, and the structure of the original script—which Sorkin mostly retains, scene for scene, since the songs are tied to it—can’t support the story it now tells. The second act, when Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Taylor Trensch, seething with emo-queer energy) rouses the knights into rebellion, still collapses in a chaotic heap of jokey lyrics and rushed plotting; the most emotional musical moments, including the standard “If Ever I Would Leave You,” still belong not to idealism but to the repressed sexual tensions among Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot.

The show seems to take place in no specific time—“The Middle Ages won’t end by itself,” says Arthur—and Michael Yeargan’s yawning set puts it in no specific space. The valiant actors, often sheathed in dark cloaks and lit in ominous silhouette, can’t bring Camelot to life in this limbo, and the musical’s quaintness keeps poking through the efforts to bring it up to date. (When Donica’s strapping Lancelot sings his comically vain introductory song, “C’est Moi,” a state-of-the-art microphone picks up every clank of his armor.) 

For all the changes this Camelot attempts, its most traditional aspect comes out on top: Loewe’s music, which is faithfully and beautifully served by a luxurious orchestra of 30 pieces, including six violins. But the production is essentially dispassionate, and there is only so much one can be swept up by the strings. (In the most misguided of his edits, Sorkin sabotages the central love triangle at the finale.) This musical is nearly three hours long, and despite occasional gestures toward liveliness—a maypole dance, an extended sword fight—you can’t help feeling the length. It moves like a funeral procession for itself. 

Camelot. Vivian Beaumont Theater (Broadway). Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Book by Lerner and Aaron Sorkin. Directed by Bartlett Sher. With Andrew Burnap, Philipa Soo, Jordan Donica, Dakin Matthews, Taylor Trensch, Marilee Talkington. Running time: 2hrs 50mins. One intermission.

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Camelot | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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