“Camelot” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – September 19, 2021


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

When Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” premiered in 1960, the original cast – Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet – plus a gorgeous but not historically accurate physical production and a catchy musical score made it a modest success.  High expectations were leveled on it because of the team’s previous “My Fair Lady” hit.  Many reasons caused “Camelot” not to become a triumph including T. H. White’s stodgy source material, “The Once and Future King,” that lacked the witty spark of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” that was used to craft “My Fair Lady.”

“Camelot’s” lackluster original showing led to ongoing attempts to fix the piece that put lyricist Lerner in the hospital and made Loewe retire from show music composing.  The 1967 movie version tried to make “Camelot” more correct by eschewing the lush settings in exchange for a more somber appearance.  Fixes to the stage version have continued through the years including a new take being premiered locally by The Phoenix Theatre Company that uses an eight-person cast of revelers who play all the parts as they relate the saga of misplaced love.

Like the movie, this production, staged spritely by Michael Barnard, chooses a spartan look utilizing heavy gray set pieces and stark costumes that provide little to divert audiences from the pokey and unenlightened tale that dulls what should be a revealing picture of King Arthur’s troubled court.  Queen Guenevere and Knight Lancelot’s love affair still plague the idealistic hopes of Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.  The score remains lush with “The Lusty Month of May,” “I Loved You Once in Silence,” and the title tune giving some life to the bland story framework.

The cast’s spirited energy treats the story as if it were a brilliant historical re-telling and the vocals are sublimely beautiful.  Toby Yatso makes a conflicted King willing to look away from his Queen and Lancelot’s illicit love affair.  Yatso’s limpid vocal prowess brands Burton’s talk/sing original song versions pale by comparison.  Kate Cook spins off Queen Guenevere’s musical numbers with beauty and her spunky characterization shows why both the King and Lancelot are smitten with her.  James D. Gish’s Lancelot sings “If Ever I Would Leave You” with stirring elegance but his acting is less convincing.  The rest of the cast play the secondary parts well.

TPTC’s “Camelot” is entertaining but the script rethinking doesn’t solve the show’s troubles that keep it from providing a vibrant glimpse into ancient history.  “Camelot” continues to October 24.  For tickets, contact The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: B-