Director Michael McFadden’s revival of the 1960 musical “Camelot” is dominated by a giant metallic sculpture that resembles oversized weapons refashioned for peace. Representing an abstracted forest in Kevin Depinet’s set design, the hanging sculpture dwarfs the actors on the Ordway Music Theater stage, where the national touring production opened Tuesday for a weeklong run. In fact, it looks like something that might collapse onto them at any moment.
That tenuous balance is an apt metaphor for the story of King Arthur, who wants to rule a kingdom governed by right, not might, even as a budding relationship between his wife, Guenevere, and his most loyal and capable knight, Lancelot, threatens to crush his dreams.
With its fairy tale setting and pretty songs, the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, became a byword for the Kennedy administration. But, like the medieval story itself, that was long ago and far away. Director McFadden has reimagined “Camelot” for a millennial generation more familiar with “Spamalot,” the Monty Python spoof, than the four-hour-long original.
McFadden’s 2 ½-hour version is streamlined, with more grit, to make it more appealing to fans of “Game of Thrones.” He uses scrims, fog and silhouettes to evoke a picture-book narrative of lust against a red-hued backdrop of warring knights. And the characters are all familiar. Arthur is called Wart, his childhood pet name, by chums. Guenevere is Jenny and Lancelot is mostly Lance.
Still, McFadden has left in too much story, which is the complaint against the original, and not enough music.
Luckily for him, the production is well cast, with good chemistry among principals Tim Rogan as Lancelot, Adam Grabau as Arthur and Mary McNulty as Guenevere, the woman who holds the kingdom in thrall with her beauty, intelligence and power.
Rogan’s Lancelot is a character of narrow range. He is the strong, mostly silent type who would rather fight people than talk to them. That reticence helps to make his rendition of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” delivered with passion, power and more than a hint of danger in Guenevere’s bedroom, a highlight of the show.
Grabau invests self-doubting Arthur with understated charm, even as he shows us a king who is far smarter than he constantly professes to be.
McNulty’s Jenny is perhaps the most contemporary character in “Camelot.” She confidently navigates the distinction between Arthur as her husband and Arthur as king (one she informs and rules, the other she obeys). And she injects a touch of irony into the outdated lyrics of “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.”
One of the stand-out performances comes in the second act when we meet villain Mordred (Kasidy Devlin), King Arthur’s son from a fling with a rival queen. Devlin performs with relish as he notes the complicated geometry of the story.
“Ah, Camelot,” he sings, “where the tables are round but the relationships are triangular.”