Saturday, April 15, 2023

NYC Theater Trip 2023: "Camelot" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

Show*: 3

Title: Camelot

Location: Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center

Written By: Lerner and Loewe, with a revised book by Aaron Sorkin

Summary: A revival of the classic 1960 musical about King Arthur and his court that feels more modern and relevant.

Highlights: When you think about it, who better to update this story of an idyllic and idealistic land that adovates "might for right" and "justice for all" than Aaron Sorkin, creator of the idyllic and idealistic worlds of The West Wing and The Newsroom? Sometimes we need to believe in a world that's better than the one we live in, although with Camelot, it aimed too high and came crashing down. The story is mostly the same, although it's been too long since I last saw the original to know exactly what was changed. But the characters and language are very Sorkin (which is a good thing in my book). Guenevere seems to have more agency and is an equal partner with Arthur, and when she doesn't (e.g., her arranged marriage as part of a peace treaty with France), it's acknowledged. The downfall of Camelot happens as a result of Mordred's machinations and some of the old guard's dissatisfaction with the ideas of equality and chivalry, rather than a woman's misdeeds. And Arthur was in on Guenevere and Lancelot's escape. There's plenty of Sorkinian banter and soliloquizing, the language and characters feel more modern, although not out of place in this world, and the magic has been replaced with science. 

Bartlett Sher has become an expert at directing classics in a fresh and exciting way, although respectful of the source (see also My Fair Lady and To Kill A Mockingbird, recently seen in the Twin Cities). The lightness and humor of the first act gives way to a darker second act. The staging and design at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre (which is similar in shape and size to the Guthrie's thrust stage) is stunning. A bare wooden stage, soldiers ascending from stairs at the back, starkly silhouetted trees, a backdrop of snow or light, a few period set pieces (set design by Michael Yeargan). The 30-piece orchestra (sitting under the stage), conducted by Music Director Kimberly Grigsby, wows on this lovely score. Period costumes are of dark royal colors, except for the etherial pastel gowns seen in "The Lusty Month of May" (costume design by Jennifer Moeller). Hamilton's Phillipa Soo is an absolute delight as Guenevere with an angelic voice; Andrew Burnap is a charmingly Sorkinian Arthur; and Jordan Donica (whom I recognized from the CW's recent Charmed reboot) is a wonderfully full of himself Lancelot. This production seems to lean towards #TeamArthur, and I have to agree; they're portrayed as two friends and partners who fall in love but can't quite bring themselves to admit it until it's too late.

Camelot is still not my favorite musical, but to borrow a Sorkin word, I was completely ensorceled at the opening night performance. The atmosphere, the excitement, the crowd dressed to the nines, the beautiful surroundings of Lincoln Center, the gorgeous show and performances, made it a night to remember.

*Once again, I'm using an abbreviated Fringe-style summary for my NYC 2023 trip, since I am in the greatest city in the world with much more exciting things to do than write! Click here to see all of my Broadway-related blog posts.