The legend of King Arthur and his round table has fascinated people through the centuries, and after viewing Music Theatre of Idaho's production of Camelot at the Nampa Civic Center, I was reminded of one of the reasons. There is a timeless quality to Arthur's dreams, and his ambition to end senseless wars has eerie echoes in today's world. He devised a new approach to knighthood and described how people with power should act as such: Might should only be used for right. Arthur sought to establish a new order of chivalry, and like the founders of America, he envisioned a better life for his people based on justice and reason.
Oh, Arthur, come back to us.
The ambitious and colorful production of Camelot, based on T.H. White's The Once and Future King, presented at the Nampa Civic Center, takes us back to those golden days of yore. While it is not a Christmas show, it does put its own touch of magic in the holiday season.
With regal pacing that could be pepped up a little, the show runs a full three hours including the 15-minute intermission. The lively orchestra, directed by Eric Pew, adds a great deal of pizzazz to the evening and helps build excitement throughout the show.
Bill Stephan as King Arthur dominates the musical with his dynamic singing, emotional acting and even some graceful dancing. He creates a robust, enthusiastic Arthur. Chills actually ran up my spine as he told the story of pulling the sword, Excalibur, from the stone. He manages to age credibly from an eager young bridegroom to excited king developing a new approach and philosophy for knighthood, and finally the sadder, older and wiser king who knows his victory lies in remembrance.
Arthur's dearest friend and great knight Lancelot, played by Andrew Schank, makes an almost comic first appearance in bulky leather armor and golden helmet. However, Schank excels at portraying the cocky Frenchman whose conceit is well founded in battle victories and even a "miracle or two." In his first song, "C'est Moi," he has some trouble with the low notes, but in his romantic "If Ever I Would Leave You," his voice soars with emotion.
Debra Ellis creates a giddy and brittle young Guenevere, given to pouts and light-hearted manipulation until the moment she and Lancelot fall in love. She and Stephan do an exceptional job of covering their pain and sadness with the charming song, "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"
James Andrews is amusing as the bizarre Pellinore with his invisible dog, tattered armor covered with what look like tin can lids, and bucket helmet with a visor that won't stay open. As native of England, Andrews has the most authentic accent in the cast, but he is also the hardest to understand.
Lon Gilbert plays a folksy Merlin, the wizard who tutored the young Arthur and who is living life in reverse. His costume is impressive, but he offers a rather weak wizard. Young Ashley Fishman portrays Mordred as a hateful youth with a nasty little laugh and handles his song "The Seven Deadly Virtues" like a pro. Fishman manages to make Mordred attractive in an evil way. His aunt, Morgan Le Fey, played by Lesli McGowan, gives a stunning but brief performance as the hilarious witch with a soaring voice and a sweet tooth.
Director Dr. Jean Andrews always has impressive sets, and these are no exception. The towering tree at the play's opening accommodates King Arthur peeping out of it, and the castle locations are fabulous. The costumes, especially those worn by the women of the court, are exceptional--all were handmade by the cast and company staff.
Director Andrews also maintains a fine balance between the humor and the drama of the play accenting the bittersweet quality of the story.
Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and Federick Loewe, directed by Dr. Jean Andrews
7:30 p.m. Dec. 9-11; matinee at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11
A Music Theatre of Idaho production at Nampa Civic Center, 311 3rd St. South
$13.50 adult, $12 senior, $10 youth. Reservations at 468-2385 or online at www.mtionline.org.