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Theater Reviews : In ‘Camelot,’ Arthur Rules With a Golden Voice

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” has always been a problem musical, and for very good reasons, some of which are solved in a generally top-notch production at Saddleback College’s McKinney Theatre.

From its Broadway opening with Richard Burton as King Arthur, the show has mostly been a starring vehicle for actors who act but whose singing is little more than speaking on key.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 12, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 12, 1994 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 26 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
THEATER REVIEWS: Captions accompanying reviews of “Camelot” and “Pvt. Wars” were reversed in some editions of yesterday’s O.C. Calendar.

It’s also very long, and many of its bus-and-truck tours have trimmed its running time. Many musical directors have entirely too much respect for its score, trying to give it a grandeur it never had. It’s a Broadway musical, not opera.

The story is simple, and the show needs the richness of all its detail. This production is about as full of that detail as you’ll find. The book is in the correct balance here, with an Arthur (Peter Wagner) who can sing and act, and a director (Blake Gould) who has allowed the entire company importance instead of just a “name” signed to sell tickets.

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Musical director John Massey Jr. sets just the right tone in his rousing overture, with an orchestra small enough and sassy enough to sound like a Broadway pit band. He keeps the score moving at perfect tempos, including good, bright paces even for the lush ballads. Just like they do on Broadway.

The musical tone established, Gould sparks the action with brightness and a fine sense of the piece’s special requirements, from its moments of misty magic to its comic flights to its romantic interludes.

Wally Huntoon’s fine mobile scenic design of crenelated castle walls and forest trees built like resting serpents is made up of segments that move onto and off the stage and into varying combinations with utmost ease and invention. And Kevin Cook’s imaginative lighting design surprises with slivers of golden light in a darkening sunset sky and a stark, blood-red panorama when Guenevere’s at the stake.

*

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Wagner’s Arthur is the director’s key to the mood of the whole production. Wagner is young enough to be convincing as the boyish Arthur, who doesn’t think he can think, and mature enough to make believable Arthur’s transition into a proper monarch with social ideas far ahead of their time.

Wagner also has a fine musical comedy voice that allows one to hear the melodies in Arthur’s songs for a change, and an infectious sense of humor that gives his Arthur a welcome freshness.

Susan Hoffman is a proper Guenevere, with a crystalline soprano that gives just the right lightness to such melodies as “Before I Gaze at You Again.” Carlos Romero is a delight as both the omnipotent Merlyn and the low comic King Pellinore, and Brent Ries’ boyish good looks and flashing smile make the evil oozing from his Mordred potent and unsettling. Beth Hansen’s Morgan le Fey has a gentle comic undertone that’s just right.

In a company that’s mostly on target, Lance Phillips’ Lancelot seems oddly out of place. He has a glorious operatic baritone that performs minor miracles with “If Ever I Would Leave You,” but he plays Lancelot as though he’s doing grand opera: stodgy, slightly pompous and with a touch too much maturity. There is none of the boyish naivete that would help make Lancelot’s self-importance and superior airs attractive.

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* “Camelot,” McKinney Theatre, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Thursday-Saturday and Aug. 20, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Aug. 21. $17. (714) 582-4656. Running time: 3 hours, 30 minutes. Peter Wagner: Arthur

Susan Hoffman: Guenevere

Lance Phillips: Lancelot

Brent Ries: Mordred

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Carlos Romero: Merlyn/Pellinore

Beth Hansen: Morgan le Fey

A Saddleback College Division of Fine Arts & Communication production of Lerner and Loewe’s musical. Directed by Blake Gould. Musical direction: John Massey Jr. Choreography: Lawrence & Sarma Rosenberg. Scenic design: Wally Huntoon. Costume design: Charles M. Castagno. Lighting design: Kevin Cook. Sound design: Kevin Mowry. Fight direction: Christopher Villa. Production stage manager: Cathy Young Ahia.


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