There are stunning moments that one finds in theater. Moments that surprise you and take your breath away.
There was such a moment at Friday night’s Davis Musical Theater opening of Lerner & Lowe’s classic “Camelot,” directed by Lenore Sebastian (in her first directorial position with DMTC). The show had opened well. The set design by John Ewing and Steve Isaacson was not opulent, but utilitarian and for the low-budget production it worked just fine. The pared down orchestra, under the direction of Steve Isaacson was adequate, if lacking in the richness that one would like to hear in a big work such as “Camelot.”
Gil Sebastian’s King Arthur was fine, nicely balancing the shyness of the boy who never expected (or wanted) to be king with the man who has become one of the most powerful rulers of the land and yet is terrified to meet his bride-to-be.
Paul Fearn, returning to DMTC after an absence of 13 years, was a wise Merlyn, Arthur’s mentor, soon to fall victim to the spellbinder Nimue (Bridget Maguire, vocalist and Meg King, dancer). (Fearn would go on later to add delightful comic relief as the doddering old Pellinore.)
Marguerite Morris gave one of her better performances as Guenevere, whose “youth was sold” when she was given in marriage to this stranger, King Arthur. Guenevere is not ready for maturity before she has had an opportunity to experience the “simple joys of maidenhood” -- “Shall two knights never tilt for me / and let their blood be spilt for me?” “Shall a feud not begin for me? / Shall kith not kill their kin for me?” Morris had the lovely bearing of a queen, and the voice of an angel.
Arthur admits his own nervousness about the upcoming nuptials, but convinces Guenevere that “there’s not a happier spot for happily ever-aftering” than Camelot.
Up to this point it has been a delightful first scene. As the royal couple exited, the curtains closed and Lancelot du Lac (Tae Kim) appeared in a spotlight. When Kim opened his mouth to sing, everybody in the near-capacity audience sat up straighter. We all experienced a stunning moment together. Kim, a medical student newly moved to the Davis area, is, amazingly, making his very first theatrical appearance--ever, yet he has the confidence of a seasoned professional and a voice worthy of any professional production. He lifted the production to a higher level. It is unfortunate that he had slight pitch problems in Lancelot’s signature,“If ever I should leave you,” and seemed to be unable to get solidly back on pitch throughout the song, but other than that slip, he was first rate throughout the evening.
Another outstanding performance was turned in by Jon Jackson as the deliciously bitchy illegitimate son of Arthur, Mordred, who is responsible for bringing down Arthur’s dream of a world where disagreements are solved by rule of law rather than by swordplay. Like Kim, Jackson lifted the production to a higher level and made it something more than a run-of-the-mill, decent community theater production of an old classic.
“Camelot” is the story of honor, of love, of friendship, of betrayal, of remorse, and of honor again, as Lancelot and Guenevere deal with their love for each other and their mutual love of Arthur, whom they do not wish to hurt. Arthur must also deal with his love for his wife and his best friend, but sets thoughts of revenge aside following their betrayal, because he still loves them both and would rather see them happy together than to lose them completely.
In the end, nobody wins.
Sebastian and Morris, who give fine performances at the start of the production, grew into their roles and their relationship as the evening (and the Camelot years) progressed, so that by their final scene together, there was genuine affection between them and their farewell was wrenching.
The supporting cast is small, lacking the “oomph” for a production this grand, but they do the best they can to be a decent crowd.
Jan Isaacson choreographed a May pole dance for “The Lusty Month of May” which was colorful, and gave the chorus lots of business to do.
Young Griffin Jackson is Tom of Warwick, on whose shoulders Arthur places the responsibility of keeping the dream of the principles of the Round Table alive. Jackson is very cute, but could speak up a bit more in order to be heard.
Jean Henderson designed the costumes and Morris, in particular, has never looked lovelier.
This production of Camelot has a lot of good things going for it, but it is worth seeing especially for the debut of Tae Kim who, if he chooses to continue doing theater, has a long successful career ahead of him.