Arts & Events
For the second summer running, the SF Playhouse has mounted a Lerner & Lowe musical in the beautiful theatre at the Kensington Hotel on Post Street. Last year it was “My Fair Lady” with Johnny Moreno, Monique Hafen, and Charles Dean with set by Nina Ball, and it swept the Critics Circle awards. This year, it’s “Camelot” with Johnny Moreno as Arthur, Monique Hafen as Guinevere, and Charles Dean as Merlin/Pellinore.
The set by Nina Ball is a revolving castle that offer amazing set changes with believable and spectacular landscape and skyscape projections on the back wall.
The acting is convincing, and singers are impressive, the music direction is top notch.
It’s good. But not up to the standard they set last year.
Johnny Moreno has become one of this critic’s favorites: he offers a heightened reality to his characters, and has a mellifluous, expressive baritone that warms and thrills. When he sings the memorable songs
which begin “A law was made a distant moon ago here..,” “How to handle of woman…,” “If ever I would leave you,” one wonders that he is still in this town and not moved to the Bigger Time. Monique Hafen has a charmingly ironic way about her character and a sweet voice, though it becomes steely in the upper register which can be jarring. When both sing, they are wholly involved in acting and communicating and there is an easy chemistry between them Charles Dean plays the sweet old codger with aplomb. The new face— Wilson Jermaine Heredia —as Lancelot is well cast since he looks unlike any of the other Britons in the cast and has a suitable tenor, though too often it seems he is concentrating on singing and navigating the tricky stairs rather than on the acting the song.
They stumble between accents: Arthur starts off in the British dialect he did with perfection in MFL, but as soon as his dialogue with Guinevere begins with her speaking Americanese, he defaults to our common US dialect. However, when they sing, the British pronunciations take over. It is confusing, and somehow the American makes the story commonplace rather than the grand fantasy legend based on fact that is one of the shining moments in England’s fabled history. Though the inhabitants of the Camelot of yore would not have spoken with what we know as a British accent, the stage convention that conjures up that time and place is the Queen’s English. In the film, Franco Nero as Lancelot had a continental accent which worked well, and should this Lancelot would have assumed a French twist in his speech, it may have made his character more exotic and convincing.
The stage combat is sorely lacking. They clank swords and are cautious in the movements. Stage fighting requires a certain amount of tension that comes from extended practice to get up a convincing rhythm. A modicum of believable danger is required, but not so much as to make the audience actually worry for the actors’ safety. While the set is stunning, the actors have to gingerly negotiate all the levels, and since there is practically no flat platea, it makes stage fighting chancy.
Abra Berman costumes flamboyantly which is a delight for the eye. She has the pre-chivalry rude knights dressed in leathers and furs with faces painted as the very image of crazed and ravaging Celts.
Arthur is dressed more decorously, but Berman wisely omits sleeves to show off his substantial biceps.
Guinevere and her ladies are dressed lovely, but they are outshone by the men’s costumes. Lancelot is costumed more conservatively and knightly. The costumes strive to make a statement of Pagan ways versus the Christianity that Lancelot brings to the table.
To further that statement during the song “The Merry Month of May,” Director Bill English has the heathens appear to be coupling on the heath in full public orgy mode—as is alleged to the custom to make the grass grow green (the Maypole is a supposedly a paean to phallic worship).
Camelot is a tale of how the hubris of renouncing the fleshly pleasures can come back to bite you in the tukus. If you don’t pay homage, particularly the Goddess of Love, she will bring the house down around your head. Lancelot is Christian to the point of bringing back from the dead a combatant he had dispatched, which astonishes and beguiles Guinevere, who, up to that point, had treated the interloper with disdain. He has become friend, brother, and son to Arthur who seeks to find a better way. Yet he betrays bonds of hospitality as surely as Paris did, and nothing good came of that except The Iliad.
All things considered, it is an enjoyable rendering of the classic, and I give it a “Go see it.”
If you want a preview, the very hip publicity and website staff at the SFPlayhouse has posted a very professional video preview.
Playing at 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel) between Powell/Mason
For info/tickets: http://sfplayhouse.org/season1213/camelot.php