Production Marks End of Studio Tenn Residency at Jamison Theatre at The Factory
by Jeffrey Ellis May. 7, 2022
The cast of Camelot at Studio Tenn – photo by Keoni Keur
Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, the 1960 musical based on the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table and adapted from the T.H. White novel The Once and Future King, is now onstage in Franklin, in an entertaining, sparkling and winningly fast-paced rendition from Studio Tenn. Under the direction of Broadway veteran Phillip William McKinley (The Boy From Oz, Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) who, with his creative team, brings to life the show’s 2010 update by multiple Emmy Award-winning, multi-hyphenate television producer David Lee (Frasier, Wings, The Jeffersons).
Unlike the original script, which tends to run long (at well over three hours), Lee’s adaptation presents a script that has undergone some judicious editing, excising some characters (say “goodbye” to Merlin, Sir Pellinore, Morgan Le Fay and sundry others), rejiggering some of the dialogue, eliminating some scenes and focusing on what he – and most of the musical’s fanbase, to be clear – believes to be the more intimate and highly engaging story that gives the show its vibrant heart: the romantic triangle of noble King Arthur, his beautiful queen Guinevere and the arrogant French knight Lancelot du Lac.
Brian Gligor as King Arthur – photo by Keoni Keur
McKinley stages the musical with a capable and versatile cast of ten, who portray a band of traveling troubadors or “revelers,” as they are identified in the show’s playbill, who bring the show to exhilarating life with bravado and a sense of fun that pervades the theater, particularly in Act One, and adding a soupcon of levity to the darker scenes that comprise most of the show’s second stanza. With his cast featuring a clever blending of seasoned professional actors – including his leading lady from Broadway in the form of Steffanie Leigh (from Broadway’s Mary Poppins, Gigi and War Paint) – and some fresh-faced younger thespians, McKinley injects a light-hearted, almost confectionary, air that gives the oftentimes dour and broody Camelot a more light-hearted mien that ensures audiences will leave the theater enthusiastically singing the praises of all the talent assembled onstage.
Brian Gligor and Steffanie Leigh – photo by Keoni Keur
While Lee’s script makes for a faster paced show, he manages to retain its romanticism and key points of the Arthurian legend to please most aficionados. In doing so, he is able to create a musical that is more easily accessible to Arthurian neophytes and members of the theaterati who have long preferred the exquisite score by Frederick Loewe over Alan Jay Lerner’s too-talky and overly dense book and lyrics. What was once plodding and heavy is now scintillating and sometimes effervescent in this production.
Yet make no mistake about it, Lee’s Camelot is still Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. And even the most ardent fans should be able to find much to love in this new adaptation. And remember there is still another revision ahead, with a new revival of Camelot set to open at Broadway’s Lincoln Center in December, directed by Bartlett Sher from a script adaptation by Aaron Sorkin. Should we expect some fast-talking knights and ladies to gather around the round table? Only time will tell.
Bryce Dunn – photo by Keoni Keur
Musical director Stephen Kummer conducts his talented orchestra made up of Nashville musicians, from their location offstage at Studio Tenn’s current home in the Jamison Theatre at The Factory at Franklin. They perform the show’s memorable score with vigor and aplomb, providing the cast with sublime musical support. Everett Tarlton, who has gained a notable reputation for his work on productions throughout the region, provides the show’s ensemble with all manner of fancy footwork that seems new and fresh, with an amusing maypole dance during “The Lusty Month of May” that reveals his cheeky approach to the material at hand.
While “Fie On Goodness,” “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” are lighter-than-air buoyant entertainments, the musical highlights of Camelot remain its beautiful ballads: “If Ever I Would Leave You” is sung with confidence by Bryce Dunn as Sir Lancelot who, despite his relative youth, exudes unrequited love and heartache in his rendering of the song. Likewise, Steffanie Leigh’s Guinevere blends pathos and despair in her haunting “I Loved You Once in Silence,” which provides the musical’s lyrical high point (with her “Before I Gaze At You Again” vying closley for that designation).
Brian Gligor is well-cast as Arthur, ably embodying the somewhat reluctant monarch who comes into his own through the course of the play. Leigh, with her crystalline soprano and regal stage bearing, not to mention her own comedic abilities, creates a Guinevere who is at once chaste and sensual. Her stage presence is palpable and her chemistry with Gligor’s Arthur and Dunn’s Lancelot is noteworthy.
Dunn is quite good as Lancelot and when one considers that he is a college sophomore the appreciation for his performance only intensifies. He affects a nicely comical French accent, for the most part, although he has trouble maintaining it over the play’s two-and-a-quarter hour playing time.
Abram Guice, Curtis Reed, Easton J. Curtis and Darian Goulding – photo by Keoni Keur
Stage veteran Curtis Reed is sublime as Sir Lionel, excelling in the physical comedy at which he is especially adept. Two of local college theater’s most exceptional leading men – Belmont University’s Darian Goulding as Sagramore and Lipscomb University’s Easton J. Curtis as Dinadan – once again show the talents that herald successful theater careers still to come. In addition, Dustin Davis, Annie Huckaba and Alan Harrisohn Foeder lend their talents to the production’s commendable ensemble.
But if one member of the cast is to be singled out for his extraordinary contribution to the production, the spotlight should be focused on young Abram Guice (yes, he’s the younger brother of the talented Arden and Aubrey Guice), who virtually steals the show as Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son. His performance and sheer command of the stage elicits warm applause from the audience, but perhaps more importantly he makes certain all their attention is riveted to him when he is onstage.
Brian Gligor and Alan Harrisohn Foeder – photo by Keoni Keur
Performed on a visually appealing and clearly stageworthy set designed by Andrew Cohen, McKinley’s clever staging emphasizes a swashbuckling flair that seems ideal for Camelot, while Darren Levin’s gorgeous lighting design gives an able assist to the audience in helping to focus their attention on the scenes playing out onstage. Costumes, designed by Neno Russell and Lauren Roark, are imaginative and timeless, allowing for the addition of elements every now and again to signify the essence of the scene in which they are worn.
Steffanie Leigh, Brian Gligor and Bryce Dunn – photo by Keoni Keur
On opening night, there were some troublesome moments (Leigh had difficulty removing the cloak she was wearing in the wedding scene and her microphone failed her in another scene and there were some overlong transitions that could use some polish) that we suspect were eliminated by the second night of performances.
Camelot is the final production to be presented at the venue. Studio Tenn artistic director Patrick Cassidy announced prior to curtain on opening night that his company is collaborating with The Factory’s owners to build “a real theater” in the space, which real include balcony seating, better dressing rooms and rehearsal space, and ample restroom facilities. For the 2022-23 season, still to be announced to the ticket-buying public, Studio Tenn will perform in various local venues.
Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Music and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White. Book adapted by David Lee. New orchestrations by Steve Orich. Directed by Philip William McKinley. Musical direction by Stephen Kummer. Choreographed by Everett Tarlton. Production stage managed by Cecilia Lighthall. Presented by Studio Tenn at Jamison Theatre at The Factory at Franklin. Through May 15. For further information and for tickets, go to www.StudioTenn.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).