REVIEW: Studio Tenn Delivers a Sleek and Dynamic ‘Camelot’ | Culture & Leisure

It’s been over 60 years since Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical Camelot premiered on Broadway. But thanks to Studio Tenn’s sleek, smart, and eminently engaging production — on stage until May 15 — audiences have a whole new way to experience an old favorite.

Based on TH White King past and future, the action still centers on the tragic love triangle involving an idealistic King Arthur, his Queen Guinevere and the gallant Lancelot. And fans are sure to recognize familiar songs, such as “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “C’est Moi,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and, of course, the title track, “Camelot.” But David Lee’s streamlined adaptation (which opened at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2010) does away with much of the past pageantry, as well as a number of supporting characters, including the mysterious Merlin and trusty Pellinore. It’s an interesting choice, and one that pays off with focused, yet very theatrical storytelling, and a refreshingly crisp pacing.

This revamped version effectively reduces the cast to a handful of players – or “party people” – eager to share the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. They deliver concise narration directly to the audience, but also provide cheeky good showmanship – easily becoming the “tree” under which Guinevere prays to Saint Genevieve, or the “stone” from which a young Arthur draws the mighty Excalibur sword. Director Philip Wm. McKinley (Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark; The boy from Oz) makes the most of that quick humor. But he’s also careful not to rush the audience, drawing us in with lovely stage portraits and allowing us to savor more poignant moments.

Steffanie Leigh (whose Broadway credits include Mary Poppins, gigi and war paint) is simply radiant as Guinevere, capturing all the seductive spirit of “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Then You May Take Me to the Fair.” But she also reveals her character’s true heartache in ballads such as “Before I Gaze at You Again” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.”

Brian Gligor delivers a thoughtful performance as Arthur, giving us a reluctant king who is at once wise, uncertain, and terrifyingly human. Gligor seemed to struggle vocally at times on Saturday matinee, but I really enjoyed his rendition of “I wonder what the king is doing tonight,” and his “How to Handle a Woman” is quite sweet. And Bryce Dunn (currently a sophomore at Lipscomb University) is excellent as Lancelot, whether he’s leaning into the pompous fun of “That’s Me” or serving up an “If I Ever… would leave you”.

These main cast members receive considerable support from a seemingly tireless cast of partygoers, who take on various roles along the way. Curtis Reed, Easton J. Curtis and Dustin Davis (who replaced Darian Goulding on Saturday morning) are particularly impressive as daring knights who challenge Lancelot to a joust. Annie Huckaba is terrific as Squire Dap and Alan Harrisohn Foeder is charming as young Tom of Warwick. And Abram Guice is pure devilish delight as Mordred, plotting against Arthur with “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and “Fie on Goodness.”

Andrew Cohen has crafted a wonderfully crumbling castle setting, which deftly supports the unfolding action, and Darren Levin’s evocative lighting enhances every scene. Neno Russell and Lauren Roark’s simple costumes feature plenty of medieval flourishes, but let’s never lose sight of the concept of happy revelers. Musical director Stephen Kummer leads a wonderful orchestra, and Everett Tarlton’s choreography adds refinement, with “The Lusty Month of May” providing one of the performance’s most memorable moments.

It may not be the Camelot you have already seen. But with imaginative storytelling and vibrant performances, die-hard fans will no doubt find Studio Tenn’s staging quite sympathetic to “happiness forever.”

Camelot continues until May 15. Visit studiotenn.com for details.

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