By Barry Reszel
With flurries in the air on Halloween and memories of last winter still quite fresh, thank you very much, who doesn’t long for a place where “there’s a legal limit to the snow?”
Wanna get away?
Then snowshoe up, down or over to Oakbrook Terrace’s gorgeous Drury Lane Theatre. There, a stunningly artistic, freshly youthful retelling of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe‘s iconic Camelot promises to take patrons to Sixth Century England or, alternatively, early 1960s Washington D.C. (Read about the connection to JFK here.)
This is no one’s parents’ Camelot. New York’s Alan Souza makes his Chicagoland directorial debut with a sexy, elegant production focusing on the oftentimes painful reality of a kindhearted young man forced to make the decisions of a reluctant adult king. The full plot and history of the 1960 Tony-winning musical may be read here. But it’s Souza’s casting juxtaposed to that seen in Camelot‘s traditional productions that emblazons his creative stamp on this staging.
New York actor Ken Clark as young, insecure, genteel King Arthur is neither Richard Burton nor RichardHarris. His lovely co-star, Christy Altomare, is a lusty, almost adolescent Queen Guenevere—neither a demur Julie Andrews nor properVanessa Redgrave. These are good things. Because while they both sing tremendously, along with booming, brilliant Travis Taylor as Sir Lancelot (his “If Ever I Would Leave You” belongs on a CD of 2014’s Chicagoland musical theatre highlights), it’s their tender characterizations that outshine even this most beloved of musical theatre songbooks.
Souza’s Camelot somehow allows the audience simultaneous insight into each of the three sides in this tragic, well-known love triangle. By taking away the traditional Arthur/Lancelot age difference, the production strips the easy explanation for Guenevere’s illicit love for Lancelot. This permits patrons to understand the love shared among all three as both clearly real and terribly heart-rending.
Kudos don’t end with the director and his three leads. Jonathan Weir shines as both Merlyn and Pellinore, and the appearance of a cool, clumsy St. Bernard (Horrid) adds to the onstage fun. Patrick Rooney is an appropriately snarky Mordred, the illegitimate son who brings about Camelot’s undoing.
The ensemble is young, energetic, handsome and talented. The ladies (Keewa, Nurullah, Erin Oechsel, Allison Sill and Andrea Louise Soule) partciularly shine in “The Lusty Month of May.” John Tovar deserves special mention for his superb fight choreography, showing off the tremendous athleticism of the knights (Alec Barbour, Michael Brown, Don Denton, Devin DeSantis, J. Michael Finley, Nathan Gardner, Travis A. Knight, Henry McGinnis, Tony Pellegrino and Glenn Stanton).
Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet‘s work is magnificent. His enormous, omnipresent tree changes with the seasons, beckoning the audience into the English countryside from where they can observe the goings-on. His work is further supported with terrific costuming, wigs and makeup by Maggie Hoffman and Rick Jarvie and extraordinary lighting by Lee Fiskness.
At the show’s ending, when King Arthur holds up Tom of Warwick as proof of his honorable legacy, he declares, “Here is my victory. What we have done will be remembered.” It’s an image strong enough for a first lady to attach to her murdered husband’s presidency.
And with Souza’s tender retelling, it’s an appropriate tagline for this extraordinarily worthy addition to the legacy of Drury Lane Theatre, as well.
“Camelot” runs through Jan. 4, 2015 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Parking is complimentary. Information and tickets ($40-$55 with additional dinner packages and senior and student discounts for some shows) are available online at www.drurylane.com or by phone (630) 530-0111.