Sunday, May 7, 2023

Camelot - Where ideals and human nature collide

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Some people will always be resistant to change. Though if said changes are truly worthwhile, one should never stop trying to make them a reality. This is the message at the heart of the 1960 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical, Camelot. A revival of which is now at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater .

Based on T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” Camelot takes place in a mythical medieval England during the reign of King Arthur (Andrew Burnap). After a long and bitter war with France, the two countries have agreed to a peace treaty. One contingent upon Arthur marrying the French princess Guenevere (Phillipa Soo). Initially against this royal union, Guenevere soon finds herself intrigued by Arthur, who is unlike any royal she’s ever known.

Arthur is rather unique when it comes to royalty, as he is not of noble blood and only ascended the throne after he pulled out a sword embedded in a large stone. A feat thousands of others had tried and failed. Despite feeling ill-suited to his position, and remembering how harshly the kingdom’s knights and others in power have treated the masses, Arthur has a vision of a new era. One where knights are defenders of justice, honor, and chivalry. Though it soon becomes apparent many of those who formerly enjoyed almost unlimited power, and the pleasures it afforded, are not happy with these new guidelines.

Jordon Donica, Phillipa Soo (background), Andrew Burnap and the company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Other potential trouble appears in the form of Lancelot du Lac (Jordon Donica); a Frenchman of great courage, virtue, and strength. Something he continually reminds himself, and everybody else. Lancelot’s greatest desire is to become a knight in the service of King Arthur. While he quickly succeeds in this, his overwhelming arrogance alienates him from the rest of the knights. At the same time, Guenevere finds herself becoming attracted to this new arrival. An attraction which quickly becomes mutual and threatens the stability of the kingdom.

Further danger arrives thanks to Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred (Taylor Trensch). Bitter and angry at his father, Mordred is determined to destroy the King and the legacy he had hoped to create.

Camelot looks at the different sides of human nature while showing how the baser elements of humanity often impede moral progress. As continually pointed out, most people often have to be forced to accept something new, whether it is the better treatment of women, or that the coach carrying a royal bride may now stop at the top of a bottom of a hill rather than the top. Also explored is the danger of implementing change too quickly. For such upheaval may not only threaten those who would do anything to maintain the status quo, but it can also destroy closely held traditions many have lived by all their lives. Yet through it all is the message that it is possible for us to become better. Plus even if we do not achieve everything we hoped, the next generation will be able to build on what this one has begun.

Phillipa Soo, Andrew Burnap, Dakin Matthews, Jordan Donica, and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT.Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

The Lerner and Loewe score, backed here by a 30-piece orchestra, never fails to soar. Highlights include the whimsical title tune, the haunting “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and the comic numbers “The Lusty Month of May,” and “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?” Also a standout is “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”. A culmination of a verbal fencing match between Arthur and Guenevere, the song illuminates the importance of communication between partners and the danger from a lack thereof.

The only real weak point is the show’s revised book by Aaron Sorkin. While Sorkin has attempted to make the original Learner text more palatable to today’s audiences, some of his efforts are rather questionable. Such as making Arthur’s longtime adviser Merlyn (Dakin Matthews) and Mordred’s mother Morgan Le Fey (Marliee Talkington) scientists instead of wizards. This removal of the magical element from the story makes the work feel a bit more pedestrian.

Andrew Burnap as Arthur in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Soo makes a fine Guenevere. A woman with a strong inner core who projects a sense of responsibility, passion, and a desire for a better world. Burnap works well as Arthur. A man initially unsure of himself, we see him grow into both the office and character of King during the course of the production.

Donica makes a powerful as Lancelot. His first number (“C’est Moi”) drips with irony as he sings about virtue and honor, even though he falls for a married woman. His character one you initially dislike for his arrogance, yet eventually come to understand. Trensch makes a strong villain as Mordred, and Matthews is good in the comedic yet wise roles of Merlyn and Pellinore.

Phillipa Soo (center) and company in Lincoln Center Theater's production of CAMELOT. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.jpg

Bartlett Shers’s direction makes effective use of the vast playing space, while Michael Yeargan’s set, coupled with 59 Productions’ projection work, nicely enhances the story.

Camelot is not perfect, but with a strong message, an appealing cast, and a wonderful score, it makes for quite a fulfilling experience.

Featuring: Anthony Michael Lopez (Sir Dinadan), Danny Wolohan (Sir Lionel), Fergie Philippe (Sir Sagramore), Dakin Matthews (Merlyn, Pellinore), Andrew Burnap (Arthur), Phillipa Soo (Guenevere), Holly Gould, James Romney (Pages), Jordan Donica (Lancelot du Lac), Paul Whitty (Dap), Ann Sanders (Clarius), Tesia Kwarteng (Lady Catharine). Delphi Borich (Lady Sybil), Taylor Trensch (Mordred), Marilee Talkington (Morgan Le Fey). Camden McKinnon (Tom of Warwick)

Ensemble: Delphi Borich, Matías De La Flor, Ṣọla Fadiran, Christian Mark Gibbs, Holly Gould, Edwin Joseph, Tesia Kwarteng, Ann Sanders, Britney Nicole Simpson, Frank Viveros, Paul Whitty


Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Loewe

Book by Aaron Sorkin

Based on the original book by Alan Jay Lerner

Based on "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White

Sets: Michael Yeargan

Costumes: Jennifer Moeller

Lighting: Lap Chi Chu

Sound: Marc Salzberg & Beth Lake

Projections: 59 Productions

Hair & Wigs: Cookie Jordan

Fight Director: B.H. Barry

Vocal & Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson

Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett & Philip J. Lang

Dance & Choral Arrangements; Trude Rittmann

Music Direction: Kimberly Grigsby

Choreography: Bryon Easley

Directed by: Bartlett Sher


Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater

150 West 65th Street

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or


Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes, one intermission

Open run