Lerner and Loewe's beloved musical Camelot has not been staged in the North Bay since 1999, when the Santa Rosa Players unleashed a splashy production at the Lincoln Arts Center. That production, directed by Gene Abravaya, is still talked about as the pinnacle of what good community theater can deliver. Like King Arthur, whose outsized myth the play humanizes, the 1999 production has become the stuff of legend—and legends are all but impossible to beat.
While Abravaya's new production of Camelot, staged by the New Spreckels Theater Company, does not quite stack up to the memory of the '99 show, it pulls out a trunkload of nifty tricks and splashes of magic that were not technically possible 13 years ago. Scenic designer Paul Gilger's gorgeous set (rumored to be the most expensive ever built in Sonoma County) has twin turrets flanking the stage, hand-set foam bricks, an ever-changing series of doors, walls and platforms, and elaborate projections that transform the castle from a jousting field to an enchanted forest. The set is reason enough to visit Camelot again.
As Arthur, Paul Huberty nails the idealistic nature of the reluctant ruler, with a puppy-dog enthusiasm that resurfaces even in times of crisis. It's a charming and ultimately heartbreaking performance. As Guenevere and Lancelot, the star-crossed lovers whose passion causes the undoing of Arthur and his dreams of a new order of justice, Heather Buck and Anthony Guzman don't quite generate the kind of heat one hopes for, though both have some fine moments.
Buck plays Guenevere's initial girlishness perfectly, but not until the play's final moments does she lose the glimmers of youth that perhaps should have given way sooner to a more self-aware maturity. And as Lancelot, Guzman (a local metal-band singer and guitarist) simply appears too young for Guenevere, though he does manage a certain young John Travolta swagger in early scenes.
Norman A. Hall and Zack Howard bring some of the best moments in the show. As the elderly badass King Pellinore, adviser to Arthur, Hall is gleefully addled but appealingly tough-as-nails. And as Arthur's bastard son Mordred, Howard steals the show with the brilliantly nasty homage to wickedness "The Seven Deadly Virtues."
Musical director Janis Wilson does a skillful job with her live orchestra, bringing Lerner and Loewe's lovely score—containing some of the best songs ever written for the stage—to glorious, magical life.