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November 28, 1986|CATHY DE MAYO

"Camelot" at Elizabeth Howard's Curtain Call Dinner Theatre plays like a Reader's Digest condensed version of Lerner and Loewe's 1960 musical. Director John Ferola has nipped and tucked at the show until all that is left are the bare bones.

Granted, the original script is flabby, but this version doesn't leave much room for shadings, and Alan Jay Lerner's witty lyrics in some of the edited (or excised) songs are among the shadings that are missed.

Yet the reworking of the script has produced two haunting moments that are vast improvements on the original. Ferola and music director Doug Shaffer have shaped Guenevere's solo "Before I Gaze at You Again" into a trio that beautifully illuminates the emotions at war among Arthur, his queen and his trusted friend, Sir Lancelot, and the dramatic staging perfectly parallels their lonely anguish. "I Loved You Once in Silence" also gains new poignancy when sung as a duet by Lancelot and Guenevere, becoming a catalogue of their regrets as well as of their love for each other and for the king whom they are betraying.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough of these evocative moments to compensate for the abbreviated plot and character development. Craig Christiansen as Arthur gives a broad performance that only spells out the obvious. Lorraine Fusare doesn't tap the spirit in the impetuous young Guenevere; her "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" is offered up with a smile rather than the petulance of a spoiled beauty who laments that she's being married off before she has even had the chance to "cause a little war." But her Guenevere gains credibility later as she faces up to fate and her regrets.

William Lewis' Sir Lancelot is hardly French, but no matter. It is a strong portrayal that draws on Lancelot's inherent dignity. Lewis and Fusare make a likely romantic pair--although, again, this is a rushed courtship--and their strong voices are among the best components in this production. George Quick is convincingly sly and smirking in the truncated role of Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son who hopes to crumble the kingdom.

There are some very effective moments that heighten the mandatory sense of magic in this show, starting with the eerie opening (heavy on the kettledrums and supersonic sound effects) that foreshadows doom. Merlin's hastened departure is magical indeed, as he vanishes in a swirl of smoke. (Greg Henrichsen's scenic design adds further special effects, employing a sliding cutout forest adorned with twinkling lights.)

But other moments don't work at all. The limitations of space and script have made the jousting scene incomprehensible, although later the confusion clears up considerably with a taped narration played over the action. Lancelot's rescue of Guenevere is another moment that is rushed and hard to follow. And throughout the production, the cast's vocal work fights the taped accompaniment.

"Camelot" will play through Feb. 1 at Elizabeth Howard's Curtain Call Dinner Theatre, 690 El Camino Real, Tustin. Information: (714) 838-1540.

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