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  The Best Version Of Flawed Camelot Ever
by John Mark Reynolds [author, academic] 1/19/07

The original Lerner/Lowe musical Camelot is a musical without a moral center . . . a confusing piece of early sixties fluff. It has some great tunes, no team that did My Fair Lady could do less, but a muddle of a book . . .something even sympathetic reviewers note.

Most important, is that the old Camelot is a play without a hero. It has a confused and impotent Arthur and tries to leave the audience feeling fine that his two best friends destroyed everything for selfish desire.

That might have worked for JFK, but the rest of us have seen the wages of sin in our own lives . . . and they are death . . . not the Merry Month of May. The film version is so bad, over-blown, and bluntly wicked that it is hard to finish it.

John Mark Reynolds

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. His personal website can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.com and his blog can be found at www.johnmarkreynolds.info.
[go to Reynolds index]

McCoy/Rigby did not just tweak this version of the play. . . they totally changed it. The result is a deeply moral and Christian work that advocates what is best in the T.H. White books on which it is loosely based and what is best in the old legend. Might for Right. Law above Passion. Forgiveness.

The team that gave us the delightful Peter Pan did this, hoping for the miracle of rescuing first class music from a third class book.

This La Mirada version of the play is (miracles happen!) better than the Broadway run. Camelot is saved . . . made serious without sermons, fun without moral bankruptcy.

There is much left to think about . . . the triangle is restored to moral seriousness by taking sin seriously.

This version of the play centers on Arthur as it should . . . and that is due in no small measure to the brilliance of that old Shakespearian actor Michael York.

Bluntly Michael York is the best Arthur yet. He plays a deeply Christian king: humble, but great. Arthur is restored in York’s portrayal as a Christ figure.

York is small when he needs to be . . . even physically next to the huge Lancelot, but bigger than the planet when that perfect voice is needed to pitch a vision. His singing? Camelot has never called for much from Arthur and York gives just enough . . .

James Barbour, readers will recall him as Rochester in the underrated Jane Eyre, is a spiritually sensitive Lancelot. He could sing the phone book . . . and it would grip. He begins as a huge sound, but allows himself to shrink as the play evolves. In the end, he is tender and tormented . . . but without physical sin. He is (even at bottom) a better man than most of us would be (or have been) and it restores the tragic element to his fate.

Only Rachel York disappoints as Guenevere. . . strangely sexless and without energy in a role that screams for both. Bluntly she is second rate and the play should consider somebody else for the role before it hits the road.

It is hard to imagine either York or Barbour developing the passion for her to make the famous triangle work. Still both the male leads are so perfect that she is carried along by them . . . in a play with inspired casting that fails only this once.

The secondary parts are very good with Time Winters as Pellinore threatening to steal any scene he is in . . . and Shannon Stoeke is an appropriately wicked Mordred who brings out the pitiable nature of Arthur’s bastard perfectly.

The scenery is sparse and stylized . . .ideal for a play intent on centering in on characters. This is a darker Camelot . . . with costumes that are not authentic, but closer to the Middle Ages than the absurd fluff one so often sees. The film is passionate . . . and thoughtful. . . and spiritual. Most versions of Camelot are only passionate . . . and the darker sets and costumes reflect the added depth.

The music? It retains all the original Lerner and Lowe genius, but it has been moved about, added to, in ways that set off the best off it and ignore the worst. This new Camelot is not quite My Fair Lady (what is?), but it no longer disappoints fans of that great musical. It is now worthy of it . . . no small praise.

Camelot became the bizarre theme of the Kennedy administration . . .
which made sense since the original score had you routing for people whose sexual infidelity destroyed a glorious Kingdom. John Kennedy must have found it comforting in his day . . . but after the revelations of the dirt of his administration and post-Monica, the glitter has utterly worn off such sophomoric male fantasy.

The new Camelot rightly presents the inability of Lancelot and Guenevere to control their passions as tragic. They are pitiable, but Arthur is great. Only Christian forgiveness, and civilization whose morality and rules they have helped destroy, gives hope for the future. Nobody roots for sin in the new Camelot.

And this very success must have presented McCoy/Rigby with a problem. This is the perfect Camelot for the heartland . . . and for the majority of folk who don’t like spending hours watching selfish people destroy a shining dream. It retains the sparkling music with a moral core . . . but how to avoid getting crushed by reviews from the libertine theater community?

The people who pay to go to plays went to Vietnam. The people who review plays protested it. . . or are the spiritual children of those who did.

Obviously fearful of the deeply traditional morality the new version advances it is pitched by McCoy/Rigby in LA Stage as a sign of the times politically. This play is a harbinger of Pelosi . . . . as if the La Mirada theater knew years ago that the Democrats would take control of Congress in November and prepared for it. The miracle is that this ludicrous and transparent spin works and the play gets a deservedly fair thumbs up.

Traditionalists fear not: this is not Pelosi’s Camelot, nor for the love of all that is holy is it Gingrich’s . . . but Arthur’s.

The play is utterly non-political . . . except in the old Greek sense that included all things human in the political. This darker retelling of the musical is charged with energy from start to finish. Bluntly, it is far better than the original production.

Go see this play.

This is a deeply traditional revision of the “Matter of Britain” having more in common with Malory than White. It is a must see . . . if you like thinking during a musical! CRO


copyright 2007 John Mark Reynolds



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