New Rep’s scaled-down ‘Camelot’ still works

Erica Spyres as Guenevere and Ben Evett as Arthir in New Repertory Theatre's "Camelot." Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Puctures

Erica Spyres as Guenevere and Ben Evett as Arthir in New Repertory Theatre’s “Camelot.” Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Puctures

WATERTOWN — The timing is no accident. The New Repertory Theatre decided to revive the Lerner-Loewe musical “Camelot” almost exactly 50 years after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas .
The musical, which came to Broadway in 1960, became closely associated with the Kennedy presidency. Just as the young, vibrant JFK who symbolized hope in the country was so cruelly struck down, the idealistic King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were also finally torn asunder.
The current production of “Camelot” at the Charles Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts isn’t perfect, but it is pleasing.
Under the direction and choreography of Russell Garrett, it is a bit scaled-down compared to other productions I’ve seen, seemingly both to fit the confines of the Charles Mosesian Theatre and perhaps in a bid to keep ticket prices within reason.
This is a more personal production focusing inward on its principals and the love triangle that brings down the famed Round Table of King Arthur, as detailed in T.H. White’s book “The Once and Future King.”
Garrett and New Rep’s “Camelot” features some of the best Equity and non-Equity talent in the area, starting with New Rep regular Ben Evett as Arthur, the having-a-year-like-the-Red Sox Erica Spyres as Guenevere, and newcomer Mark Koeck as Lancelot. The Mosesian Theatre is a beautiful facility, but it does pose some problems for staging a full-scale musical like “Camelot.” 

Eric Spyres as Guenevere and Mark Koeck as Lancelot in "Camelot." Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Eric Spyres as Guenevere and Mark Koeck as Lancelot in “Camelot.” Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

For many of the musicals the New Rep has staged in the theater, which has no orchestra pit, the musicians have been located on stage. In this production, the eight-piece orchestra is “hidden” off-stage and the music piped into the theater; the amplification and the re-routing of the sound take something away from it.
And while the orchestra performs the score artfully under the direction of Music Director David McGrory, eight pieces just can’t deliver the full, lush sound that the Lerner-Loewe score deserves. Having said that, it would be impractical and likely economically impossible to have more in a theater with fewer than 400 seats.
Despite those limitations, the score plays as lovely as ever, with the jaunty title tune and evergreen love ballads such as “If Ever I Would Leave You,” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.”
As an actor, Evett has much the same charisma as a young JFK had. His King Arthur is a conflicted monarch, having lived his life until this point under the aegis of “might makes right.”
But there is something nagging his conscience even as he has earned a reputation as a brave warrior. Maybe might isn’t always right . And maybe a new kind of enlightened chivalry can even the playing field between the nobleman and the peasant.
As a singer, Evett follows in the path of other King Arthurs who played the role — Richard Burton comes to mind — in that Lerner and Loewe have not required that the part be played by a great singer, simply the ability to properly enunciate and “put over” the songs and Lerner’s clever lyrics, and Evett sparkles at that.
Spyres as Guenevere has seemingly attained the status as being the “go-to” actress in the area whenever a juicy musical role is available, perhaps because of her versatility, consistency of performance, a lovely singing voice and stage presence.
Robert Murphy has taken an interesting approach to King Pellinore, the chief comic relief of the piece. He is permanently seeking the legendary “Questin’ Beast” but above all is a somewhat rumpled and confused ally of Arthur’s. Stuffily British to the core, he sprinkles his speech with “old chaps” and speaks bluntly and directly to Arthur, such as his evaluation of Mordred: “You have sired a skunk.”
Garrett has rolled the dice with the casting of Boston Conservatory senior Koech. In the role of Lancelot, the haughty and full-of-himself knight, he struggles at times to balance virtue with humility and never quite convinces us he is a French nobleman It’s such a delicate balance between character and caricature and it’s asking a lot for a someone who’s still in college to stay up with such seasoned pros as Evett and Spyres. He sings beautifully, though.
Nick Sulfaro is properly malodorous as Arthur’s bastard Scottish son Mordred, who makes it his life’s work to destroy all that Arthur has built up in his court and the Round Table, and perhaps install himself on the throne along the way
He devises a plan to ensure that Guenevere and Lancelot will be alone in the castle, will test Arthur’s love and his commitment to the ideals of the Round Table.
He is part of the number “Fie On Goodness” along with the other knights, who are all quite good, with special mention to Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Sir Lionel) Mark Linehan (Colgreavance), and Michael J. Borges (Dinadan). Young actor Dashiell Evett makes for a dashing Tom of Warwick. I’m not sure, but could it be in his genes?
John Traub’s scenic design includes lovely tapestries and standards, and a series of concentric circles to suggest the Round Table
If you haven’t yet seen “Camelot” — and the only recent professional production in the area I recall is the one by North Shore Music Theatre in 2005 — it is a huge hole in your theatrical resume, and one I assume you’ll remedy promptly.
The New Rep take is a winning production that does that the show justice, thanks greatly to the charm of its principals and the focus on the love triangle that is at the heart of the show.
The New Repertory Theatre production of the musical “Camelot,” through Dec.22 at the Charles Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe. Book by Alan Jay Lerner, based on the T.H. White book “The Once and Future King.” Directed and choreographed by Russell Garrett. Scenic design by John Traub. Costume design by Rafael Jean. Sound design by Steve Dee.