The pared down Camelot presented by Music Theater Works in the intimate north theater at North Shore Center for the Arts has everything you love about this iconic musical: the songs, the winning and winsome Arthur (played with depth and range by Michael Metcalf), a saucy and smart Guenvere (played by Christine Mayand Perkins), and an attractive and committed Lancelot (Nathe Rowbotham brings both masculine and feminine energy to the role giving complexity to the love triangle). This is a show that is deservedly beloved.
Lerner and Loewe’s often problematic, and severally reworked renderings,of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King become a fall from grace parable as the youthful King Arthur and Queen Guenevere attempt to change the world for the better-- to usher a kinder and gentler civilization into being. Through living life the idealists become harshly confronted with the messy and difficult aspects of human nature. Even if you help found the Rule of Law, you will find there is no hard and fast line of right and good. Love does not truly triumph over all in the end, despite a somewhat hopeful ending. But this is a musical that states most clearly that ideas often survive those who create them, and it’s a good story. It’s also a deeply significant tale during midterm election season: what is right? What is good? Humans are notoriously and historically difficult to govern.
Notably missing from this version is the Merlin character who represents wisdom or mentorship or goodness. In this telling we do have forces of evil or mischief personified through Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son. Played by the stunning Parker Guidry, a genderfluid powerhouse who is a lady in waiting in the first half of the show, Mordred represents everything Arthur is against. Mordred brings forth the conflict between Arthur’s aspirations and his circle’s baser instincts, and stakes a claim in the anthem Fie On Goodness!, a tune that keeps getting cut and put back into the show as the script moves with our culture through the years. If Camelot is Eden, Mordred is the snake who holds a mirror to our lesser selves, who ushers all of the characters into War, which is humanity's self created Hell on Earth. Writers and directors and actors and theater companies keep coming back to this story, and to this musical, because it says something fresh and true about the nature of our own good and evil.
This is a thoughtful and artful production and truly not to be missed. I had thought I was going to see more gender switching based on the lobby displays– an educational and fulfilling tour through some of history’s most famous women warriors. Be sure to leave time to take it in. Still, the purposeful blurring of gender lines and the all female production team does help foster the sense that love and war are part of the yin and yang of being human, and make one think more deeply about this ancient tale.
Don’t miss out on this run: Camelot plays at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts,
9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie for Wednesdays at 1pm,Fridays at 8pm, and Saturdays at 2 and 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through November 13, 2022. Tickets and information can be found at www.MusicTheaterWorks.com.
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