Camelot


The Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera has long been the premiere music theater group in the area, but their new production of Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot" sets a new standard of excellence in richness and complexity. This show combines elaborate sets, beautiful period costumes, and one of the strongest casts ever seen in Santa Barbara. The interior walls of the Granada have a beautifully complex design, especially around the stage. We have a proscenium arch of lattice that effectively extends the concept of the theater and frames the stage with curves and angles that fit the magical tale about to unfold. The curtain opens with knights and ladies, a stone staircase, and the castle in the background. A wooded glade stretches from the back of the stage to the castle with a gnarled old tree in the foreground. We first meet Arthur while he's hiding there, trying to catch a glimpse of his bride-to-be, Guinevere. After he finally meets her he tells her how he got to be king. He says that she has finally made him feel like a King and he wants to be a good one. Merlyn rejoices that Arthur finally has become ambitious, and it brings his time to an end. Lights swirl in the background, the voice of Nimue calls like a sultry siren as Merlyn is stripped of his powers. A pillar of smoke shoots up from the floor, envelops him and he disappears. James Barbour is an heroic Lancelot dressed in purple with silver trim. He's confident, almost swaggering when we meet him in "C'est moi." His quest for inner perfection to go with his physical prowess annoys everyone. He finally wins them over at the Jousts, including Guinevere, and that's where the trouble really starts. In the powerful Knighting Ceremony, as Arthur knights Lancelot, all goes dark with those two centrally lit. Arthur realizes what's happening with Lancelot, the man he most loves and wants at his side in his quest to bring civilization to the world, and Guinevere, his wife and the woman he most loves in whole and in all of her parts. He goes through all the pros and cons of killing Lancelot, then rises above himself as an individual and becomes a great King as he knights him.

We meet Mordred, dressed all in black with red and gold trim. He's a weasly little guy, trying to sow discord wherever he goes. He succeeds pretty well, too. We have the star-crossed lovers, Lancelot and Guinevere being swept along to their fate. The stake scene is absolutely chilling, with smoke rising from the floor and torches through the haze in the background. They come to the foreground and march around Guinevere as she's tied to the stake. Arthur is on the balcony, desperately calling out in the smoky half light to Lancelot to appear to rescue her as we are swept along the the climax. Glory Crampton and Mark Capri return as Guinevere and Lancelot following their performances in "My Fair Lady" last year. They're absolutely outstanding, both vocally and in their portrayals of the characters. James Barbour's "If Ever I Would Leave You" is beautifully powerful as Lancelot sings to Guinevere in the garden. David Richards is outstanding in the dual roles of Merlyn and King Pellinore. One of the most fascinating things about this production is that all of these characters change from dead serious to ridiculous caricatures and back again. It's so effortless that you hardly even realize it until you're absorbed in the new characterization. There's nothing funny, however about Chad Borden's Mordred, as he draws hisses all around. Elise Unruh leads the orchestra. From top to bottom the SBCLO's "Camelot" is an outstanding production by any standard. This is a difficult musical to stage and they cut no corners. The sets and costumes are rich and elaborate, the cast first-rate. In this sense "Camelot" is the best thing I've seen the SBCLO do. You should see it, too. It continues at the Granada through June 21. This and other reviews can be seen on the World Wide Web at paulb.com.

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Last Updated Monday, June 01, 1998 by Paul Berenson