Monday, May 17, 2004


Bryan Bender is Arthur and David C. Farmer is Merlin in Army Community Theatre's "Camelot."

Army Theatre provides
a gallant ‘Camelot’

"Camelot" is one of those grand old Broadway musicals that warms the heart and tugs at the tear ducts even though the plot and character relationships don't stand up to close examination.

"Camelot" Presented by Army Community Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 29 at Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter. Tickets are $14 to $17; $8 to $10 children. Call 438-4488.

Lerner and Loewe's retelling of the ancient tale of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has been a hit since it opened on Broadway in 1960, and Army Community Theatre's current revival is a success in almost all areas.

Bryan Bender does his best work yet as King Arthur. Tina Shelton brings a clear voice and engaging style to her portrayal of the fatally flawed Guinevere and Matthew Pennaz pulls off the demanding task of making Sir Lancelot equally believable as a conceited prig and a star-crossed lover.

Add commanding performances by John Hunt (King Pellinore) and Dion Donahue (Mordred) in key secondary roles, excellent coordination between musical director Darren Kimura and sound designer Rick Jackson, and some of the most effective lighting and stage effects seen to date at Richardson Theater, and ACT's "Camelot" is impressive.

Lerner, who wrote the show's "book" and memorable lyrics, created a complex protagonist in Arthur, an idealist and dreamer suffering from naiveté and lack of self-confidence.

Guinevere became his queen in an arranged marriage and is dangerously irresponsible. She takes an instant dislike to Lancelot and deliberately taunts three of Arthur's top knights into challenging the young Frenchman in combat. One dies as a result.

Lancelot has spent his life seeking perfection through physical and spiritual purity. He is so pure that his prayers bring the dead knight back to life, but his willpower crumbles and his honor ebbs when he falls in love with Guinevere.

Arthur creates a new order in England based on the just and noble use of power, and the ideal that the law shall be applied impartially to king and commoner alike. He thus forces himself to be "civilized" and ignore the affair between his wife and his best friend. Arthur's commitment also allows his illegitimate son Mordred free reign at court, even though this also threatens to undermine his authority and "civilized" society.

Bender makes a great protagonist, whether playing Arthur as an awkward suitor trying to convince a divine woman to reconsider her dislike of his kingdom ("Camelot"), a loving husband pondering male/female mysteries ("How to Handle A Woman"), or a bitter monarch struggling to control his rage and preserve the system of "might for right" he has created.

Pennaz makes a dramatic entrance singing "C'est Moi," capturing each comic nuance in Lancelot's self-congratulatory list of accomplishments, while his boat "sails" slowly across the stage. He is equally convincing in his big romantic number, "If Ever I Would Leave You."

Donahue personifies gleeful evil in his zesty portrayal of Mordred. "The Seven Deadly Virtues" and "Fie on Goodness" are fine showcase numbers, and he enlivens other scenes as well. Hunt ably suggests through his posture and delivery Pellinore's growing strength as Arthur loses control of Camelot.

It's asking a lot of anyone to sympathize with Guinevere, but Shelton, the designated star of ACT's production, makes the most out of what the script gives her to work with.

"The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" establishes her vocal qualifications; her duets with Bender are fun and dramatically satisfying, and she sings "I Loved You Once is Silence" with an appropriate blend of poignancy and regret.

Julius Dae-Sung Ahn (Sir Sagramore) stands out as the singing narrator of the climactic scene in which Arthur must choose between betraying his heart, his kingdom or the new laws of the Round Table.

David C. Farmer seems to be having a ball playing weary old Merlin for laughs. Georgia Boyd sings beautifully as the bewitching Nimue, Karen Valasek (Morgan Le Fey) balances shrewd malice and light comedy as a sorceress who agrees to bewitch Arthur in exchange for chocolate, and F.L. Cabacungan adds subtle but positive embellishments to the character of Lancelot's squire.

"Camelot" is a long play, but director Eden-Lee Murray ensures that little running time is wasted and that none of the scenes drag. "Camelot" ends with most of its conflicts unresolved and with no clearly defined message or moral, but fans of the Broadway hit will find ACT's revival worth the price of admission.

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