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The Barter Blog

"Camelot" — Lessons from a Passionate Legend

February 24, 2019

Review by Bonny Gable

February 24, 2019

From a magnificent castle surrounded by enchanted forests springs a fantastic tale of kings and queens, lovers’ intrigue, and the quest for idyllic existence. Barter Theatre’s Camelot offers an escape to a secret spot for happy ever aftering on a wave of gorgeous music, stunning spectacle, and action packed story telling. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table comes to life in this beloved musical theatre classic. It allows us to glimpse a magical time when men and women not only dared to strive for a perfect civilization, but also braved the struggles of its joys and perils.

Immediately capturing your attention is the striking set designed by Dale Jordan. The vast expanse of bare stage is enclosed with enormous floor-to-ceiling panels of “stone” sculptures bearing images of knights. With hands clasped in prayer and stone faces keeping solemn watch, the scene conjures a cavernous stone castle of medieval grandeur with all its hidden secrets. Then, in a perfect marriage of setting and light, episodes of the story flow seamlessly via inventive lighting design by Dale Jordan with assistance from Andrew Morehouse. A vibrant palette of transforming colors and shifting shadows on the carved stone create the ever-changing atmosphere and distinguish each location in the characters’ journey.

Director Richard Rose has guided this production with savvy wisdom. Fifteen marvelous actors form an economical troupe that performs before the oversized set, emphasizing that the world of this legend is much larger than the players in it. The characters’ struggles are heightened, and the actors have an enhanced arena in which they deliver outstanding performances.

Nick Koesters does an impressive turn as Arthur, who claimed the sword Excalibur to become king of England. He is totally believable in his exuberant youth as “Wart,” but as time passes shows appropriate maturity. With ease he portrays both the gentle and forceful essences of Arthur as circumstances and moods dictate. This is equally evident in “How to Handle a Woman” and his heart wrenching speech prompted by ideals conflicting with love and betrayal.

A special treat to behold is the queen, Guenevere, marvelously played by Barter newcomer Samantha Bruce. From young rebellious bride in “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” to the feisty wife in “The Lusty Month of May” to the heartbroken lover in “I Loved You Once in Silence” Bruce’s glorious soprano rings throughout the theatre with effortless flair. Enter Lancelot (Andrew Hampton Livingston), who travels from France to defend the Round Table and worship Arthur. Though Lancelot sees himself as the epitome of perfection and purity, Livingston plays him with a unique understated confidence, singing a rather likeable “C’est Moi” that actually inspires chuckles. But as destiny would have it, Lancelot’s arrival ultimately complicates matters when he and Guenevere fall for each other. Livingstone, Bruce and Koesters handle the love triangle that drives the remainder of the story with great sensitivity as well as passion.

Mary Lucy Bivins as King Pellinore provides an ample supply of comic relief, playing the crusty but spunky ancient monarch with whimsical verve. The vitality she lends to Pellinore’s outrageous tales of adventure and persistent challenges to the king keep the laughs coming and Arthur on his toes.

Rusty Allen as the contemptible Mordred is the personification of evil, reeking of treachery the instant he slithers from behind Arthur’s throne. With his chilling rendering of “The Seven Deadly Virtues” he makes his intent to destroy the Round Table perfectly clear. In the Enchanted Forest he seeks out his deliciously wicked aunt, Morgan LeFey. Paris Bradstreet is brilliant as this self-centered sorceress easily manipulated through appeals to her vanity and base desires. Mordred easily coerces LeFey to build an invisible wall, trapping Arthur while he performs his dirty deeds. Allen and Bradstreet make a despicably charming pair of villains.

The telling of this legend is infused with exciting action as Amanda Aldridge’s amazing choreography fuels both feasts and treachery. Lively dancers wield a dizzying twirl of ribbons in “The Lusty Month of May,” entwining the color strands into intricate patterns. The fiery energy of “Fie On Goodness” sets Mordred and the knights to an unquenchable thirst for battle and rebellion. And where there are knights there will be swordplay, even in idyllic Camelot. Vincent Carlson has created some exciting fight scenes to spice up the action, utilizing swords, shields and mace. Aldridge serves double duty providing illustrious costume designs as well. Armor and chain mail for the knights blend with medieval gowns and royal robes in rich colors that change with the season or occasion. All are splendid, but Arthur’s brilliant purple velvet tunic with white fur trim is an impressive favorite.

A perfect world where equality reigns and weapons are banished seems indeed a fantastical notion that belongs only in a legend. But the desire for a Camelot is a fervent wish that lies within our hearts, if not in our reality. So for a short while we can revisit that wish, and learn from Arthur’s courage what is a reality: there is always hope for the next generation.

Camelot runs at Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA through March 30.

For tickets and information contact 276-628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com

Bonny Gable is a freelance writer based in Bristol, Virginia.