ST. GEORGE — In a script rife with pearls of wisdom, punctuated by stellar singing and acting, one can really start to believe in the idea of Camelot. Billed as the “new small cast version” of the classic musical by Lerner and Loewe, St. George Musical Theater’s production of Camelot lived up to every romantic and tragic expectation, with a goodly portion of humor weaved throughout.
Like many other musicals of its era, Camelot has recently undergone a bit of a renovation. In the case of some musicals, these updates focus on changing or softening pieces of the story that might be perceived as politically incorrect in today’s world. For Camelot, however, playwright David Lee‘s transformation mainly focused on removing superfluous scenes and dialogue in order for the story to pack a more poignant punch. For example, Merlin is referenced several times, but does not appear in the production.
Under the direction of Norm Lister, with musical direction by Kris Barber, this version of Camelot adhered to the new script for the most part, but with a slightly more fleshed out cast. A few additional female voices beyond what the revised script requires, and the inclusion of Nimue, the water nymph (played during this performance by the understudy Katherine Wood), added to the depth of the ensemble’s rich sound, while allowing St. George Musical Theater to put its own mark on the show. As a result, all the favorites, from “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” to “How to Handle A Woman” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do” are all eminently enjoyable.
From the opening “Huzzah,” the production kicked off with a bang. The time period, the beautiful costumes, and the intimate setting an almost Shakespearean feel. Like a green show with a full-scale plot.
Striding on stage as only King Arthur can, actor Jake Thomas was immediately convincing in the royal role. Strong, charismatic, and with a voice that simultaneously wooed and wowed, it was little wonder Guenevere (played beautifully by Rachel Cox) was so immediately drawn to him, and him to her. As the story progressed, Thomas’ portrayal of King Arthur deepened and matured, culminating — for Act 1 at least — in the moving monologue wherein the king shows restraint and passion in equal measure as he proclaims, “compassion is not weakness.”
Plenty can be said of Cox’s vocal prowess, as exhibited in her lovely take on “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the vibrant “Take Me to the Fair,” among others. But even more important to this role was the level of acting — a skill Cox took to the next level. Facial expressions that conveyed Guenevere’s spark, her sass, and her sorrow, along with the ability to exude deep chemistry with both King Arthur and Sir Lancelot (played by Brock Jongeward) made it difficult to remember this is community theatre, not a professional cast. Turning in a splendid version of the self-assured and smitten Lancelot, Jongeward definitely fulfilled his side of the love story, and maintained respectable consistency with his French accent.
But where would Arthur, or Lancelot for that matter, be without the other knights of the round table? Sir Sagramore (played by David Brinley), Sir Lionel (played by Zane Kroff) and Sir Dinadan (played by Nathan Benner) gave impressively strong vocal performances in numbers like “Take Me to the Fair” and “Fie on Goodness,” as well as their parts in a surprisingly suspenseful jousting match. Notwithstanding all this leading talent, in some cases, it was the most background of background characters that added the most to the scene. Even something as simple as an actor holding a tree, could add to a scene. Lister’s decision to have one actor move about with a few bare tree branches to meet the needs of the actors’ lines regarding the nearby trees, was simple but hilarious.
No production of Camelot, nor any review of it, could be complete without the character everyone loves to hate: Mordred, played in a deliciously sinister manner by Jalen Hyatt. Though he appeared younger than one might expect for this particular part, Hyatt made up for that fact in the maturity he exuded within the role. Spiteful. Sinister. Slimy. Hyatt had it all — and brought the story to its ultimate climax with a powerful hand.
Yet even as Camelot reaches its tragic end, there is hope, courtesy of the young boy named Tom (played by Kai Davis). Hope in the future. Hope in the telling of the story of Camelot again and again. If every telling of Camelot is as beautiful as the production at St. George Musical Theater, then this story is definitely worth sharing.