King Arthur is such a modern idealist.

Any other ancient monarch would have the parties executed if he suspected that his queen was sexually entangled with someone else. (Think: Henry VIII.)

But while upset about the apparent lust between Queen Guenevere (effervescent Helen Anker) and Sir Lancelot (charismatic Aleks Knezevich), Arthur would rather find a solution that pleases everyone. He is building Camelot, after all, a magical world where might does not equal right, and egalitarianism is embodied in his Round Table.

As played magnetically by Keith Rice in Michael Brindisi’s beautiful, old-fashioned revival of the Lerner and Loewe musical at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, Arthur is a thoughtful, wise man with a pleasing disposition. He’s like an older but happier Hamlet. His Arthur would rather have the parties go to a therapist, perhaps together, than to the executioner.

Freud would have had a field day with the principals in “Camelot,” all of whom are torn about their love for one another.

With simple blocking, director Brindisi surfaces a strong erotic pull between Guenevere, Lancelot and Arthur in a scene near the end. That’s when Lancelot faces the queen, their eyes locked in love, as Arthur stands rigid behind the knight. The king stares daggers into the back of Lancelot’s head before seeming to temper the anger brimming in his eyes.

A sweet romance sweeps through Brindisi’s production, which has opulent, mystical costumes by Rich Hamson, passionate music conducted by Andrew Cooke and elegant choreography by Tamara Kangas Erickson.

The big numbers are all played confidently. Anker is playful and zesty in “The Lusty Month of May.” Rice’s Arthur mirrors her in his numbers, stepping outside of himself on “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight” and channeling charm on “How to Handle a Woman,” a Henry Higgins-esque number that could have been plucked from Lerner and Loewe’s biggest musical, “My Fair Lady.”

But the highlight of this production, musically speaking, is Lancelot’s “If Ever I Would Leave You.” A man of stout frame, Knezevich pours his muscular heart sweetly into the song.

Brindisi did not skimp on the cast. Tony Vierling plays Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son from a liaison with a queen, like a bat out of hell. He’s scary in his grievance. David Anthony Brinkley invests Merlyn with avuncular kindness. And Renee Guittar is mysteriously magical as Nimue, the Lady of the Lake.

Brindisi’s winning production is a reminder that fairy tales can have social value, and not serve merely as escapist fantasies. In times of trouble — which is to say any era in human history — such stories can serve as reminders of sweet dreams.

 

rpreston@startribune.com

Twitter: @rohanpreston

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