‘Camelot’ at 2nd Star Productions by Amanda Gunther

FOUR STARS
In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for ‘Happily Ever After’ than here in Camelot! And 2nd Star Productions delivers a resplendent happy musical with a rousing cast of characters as they close their season with Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Directed by Jane B. Wingard with Musical Direction by Joe Biddle, this historically themed musical takes the audience romping through the May-fields of England just as the mighty Arthur has settled into his Kingship. From Guenevere to Lancelot and the Round Table, the knights and chivalry of days gone by come to life right before your very eyes.

King Arthur (Gary Seddon), Lady Guenevere (Emily Mudd), and Lancelot (Ben Harris). Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

King Arthur (Gary Seddon), Lady Guenevere (Emily Mudd), and Lancelot (Ben Harris). Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

The production itself comes close to perfection, faltering only with its pacing and its orchestra. At my performance, Pit Conductor and Musical Director Joe Biddle, while playing wonderfully on the keys, had trouble keeping the rest of the orchestra in tune and on tempo. The brass section in particular was shrilly squeaky and off-key during moments of proclamation announcements and heraldry calls, and there were many complex songs that took on syncopated and peculiar rhythms with which the players struggled to keep the proper rhythm and tempo. There were also moments, mostly when Guenevere was singing, where the orchestra was playing so loudly that she could hardly be heard. I’m confident that these problems will be rectified as the run continues.

Director Jane B. Wingard does a marvelous job of blocking the production so that two dozen ensemble members never appear to overcrowd the stage. Wingard, however, struggles to keep the flow of the production going during the numerous non-musical scenes. The dialogue hangs idly in places, letting these talkative scenes drag down the overall momentum of the show.

Costume Designer Linda Swann captures the essence of the Medieval Renaissance era for every single person on the stage. Be it the royal court in their fancy velvet finery or the various ladies in waiting with a range of dresses in many vibrant colors and all of the glorious headgear, snoods and beaded charms; Swann has a vision of this time period that is well reflected on the stage. Her most impressive work is in the whimsical fantasy of the fey court dancers. Minions of Morgan LeFey, the Faerie Queen of the enchanted wood, these ladies are bedecked in flowing layers of gauze and lace and have the most enchanting masks and wings.

The large ensemble provides the boisterous powerful sound that you would expect from such numbers, the male ensemble particularly during “Fie On Goodness.” Featured here is a solo given by ensemble member Zac Fadler, a voice worth noting for how crystal clear, pure and strong he sounds when belting about Scotland as the rest of the men use their voices to comically imitate the lowing bagpipes and sheep of the plaid-lands. The female ensemble is equally delightful when joining the Queen for “The Lusty Month of May.” Both “The Jousts” and “Guenevere” are prime examples of how lovely all the ensemble voices sound when blended together, first in a rousing round of excitement and then in a more melancholic, if lyrically dissonant somber ballad.

What really sets this production apart from others is the minor characters that populate the story. Every actor makes their role stand out, engaging the audience for even the briefest of moments. Merlin (Gene Valendo) and Nimue (Erin Paxton) are prime examples of this. Valendo only stays with us as the sorcerer briefly during the opening scenes, but he commands a majestic presence upon the stage and has a good comic line or two to deliver with well-placed timing. Paxton as the bewitching Nymph swoops onto the stage with her gossamer wings and siren’s voice, making her brief appearance a more than memorable one.

The same can be said of Morgan LeFey (Rebecca Feibel). As the obstinate and haughty Queen of the Faeries, Feibel has a sassy attitude that becomes a force to be reckoned with, and despite her icy demeanor has a kind notion of right and wrong. Playing opposite her bratty nephew Mordred (Michael Mathes) she makes a cunning bargain during “The Persuasion” which showcases her ability to deliver metered rhyming prose. Mathes, while never really doing any singing during his songs, is a great character actor. He adapts a gritty and slimy feel to his spoiled rotten nasty little imp of a person and becomes vilely villainous during “The Seven Deadly Virtues” as he rattles them off at lightning speed.

What such show could you have in Camelot without the knights? Three such are featured, Sir Dinadan (Nathan Bowen) Sir Sagramore (Keith Norris) and Sir Lionel (Josh Hampton). This trio of studly men come together in a most amusing fashion for “Take Me to the Fair” swapping humorous rhymes with the Queen as they plot to take down Lancelot in the joust. Bowen, Norris, and Hampton’s brazen devotion and comic banter please her majesty pink as punch.

A wandering fool at first, Pellinore (Marty Hayes) arises greatly to his position at Arthur’s side as the production progresses. With aloof mannerisms that make him barmy and batty all in one go, Hayes is a charming wandering old madman that quickly evolves into a sagely, albeit annoying, companion for the king. His performance is splendid despite never hearing him sing.

Where we have knights and a kingdom surely there must be a queen, and in this case it’s Guenevere (Emily Mudd). Her only problem is being extremely softly sung, making it difficult to hear her melodious voice in her various solos. Mudd has a charming British accent and displays a myriad of emotions from petulance to kindness and understand. Her singing voice is like a songbird and packed with heartfelt emotions for “Before I Gaze At You Again” and “I Loved You Once In Silence.” We see Mudd’s giddier side surface for her frolicking dances during “The Lusty Month of May.” The chemistry that she crafts with Arthur is a slow and kind relationship of tender love and affection. Her duet with the king, “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” is both incredibly amusing and a blissful marriage of their voices twining together for a good time.

The most versatile character to show his face at the roundtable (which I should mention we never actually see) is Sir Lancelot (Ben Harris). Arriving on the scene as an arrogant narcissistic champion of France, Harris masters his thick accent with perfect elocution while managing to still sound very foreign to the English ear. “C’est Moi” becomes a crowd favorite as he belts and bellows about how perfect he truly is. But as the play progresses Harris reveals a much deeper side of the Lancelot character, a warm, passionate man who is madly in love with Guenevere, his bold emotive serenade “If Ever I Would Leave You,” proving with rich emotions just how caring he can be. Harris’ performance is second only to the King’s, giving us a stunning show.

King Arthur (Gary Seddon). Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

King Arthur (Gary Seddon). Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

He is Arthur (Gary Seddon) King of the Britains! And his performance as such is incredible. Seddon starts the production as the rather spoiled king uncertain of his role in life, moody and broody, blaming Merlin for his problems. His comic delivery for songs like “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight” and the opening of “How to Handle a Woman” are uproarious; his rhythm delivery of the twisted syncopated beat astonishing. Seddon is a double-edged sword with his rich tenor-baritone voice that exudes a heavenly quality when singing in songs like “Camelot” and “How to Handle a Woman.” His final speeches, for both Act I and Act II are harrowing and heartfelt, the perfect juxtaposition of a strong man weakened by his humanity. And seeing him knight Lancelot is one of the most marvelously majestic moments of the production; a performance well worthy of a king.

So get thee a horse and gallop into 2nd Star Productions’ Camelot before the kingdom comes crumbling down around itself this summer.

Running Time:  Three hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.

Camelot plays through June 29, 2013 at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse— located in White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. Tickets can be reserved by calling the box office at (410) 575-5700, and can be purchased online.

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