‘Camelot’ brings opulence to legendary Roman play

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Camelot is called “a most congenial spot” in the song of the same name. The musical “Camelot,” now playing at UCLA’s Royce Hall, would be much more congenial if someone took the sword “Excalibur” and did a little creative cutting. This is not the best work of that legendary team, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, but the production is first rate and the costumes are simply gorgeous.

In an effort to be true to the legend of King Arthur, the story drags a bit, but there are many elements that make the musical hugely entertaining. There are familiar songs, such as “Camelot,” “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” The best song, “C’est Moi,” has the music and witty lyrics that distinguish Lerner and Lowe. A modern thrust is given to the famous story as King Arthur tries to take the bloodshed out of chivalry and replace it with social justice. When he speaks out about ending wars, the message to the audience is clear.

Lou Diamond Phillips performs lustily as King Arthur but the role lacks a certain bravado. The king is trumped by his friend and rival, Lancelot, who is the more engaging figure. Matt Bogart, with a wispy French accent, plays him to the hilt.

As Queen Guinevere, the lady of the tragic triangle, Rachel de Benedet is a sensation, both singing and acting. Sweet and coy, regal and witty, she has hair that would make Rapunzel jealous. She looks dazzling in magnificent costumes, with a wardrobe that offers a different gown in just about every scene.

The villainous Mordred was played by Shannon Stoeke, who was a bit over the top and garbled his song, “The Seven Deadly Virtues.”

The dazzling apparel is not confined to the women. Lancelot in silver mail and armor is a sight to behold. The imaginative costumes were designed by Marcy Froehlich who was obviously given carte blanche and pots of money. There is nothing chintzy about the clever sets, which change regularly and smoothly. Indicative of the attention to detail are the royal thrones, which are decorated with “precious” gems.

Eric Anderson was a magical Merlin and Time Winters as the monocled Pellinore added humor to the serious affair afoot. Others cast members who contributed mightily were Chris Warren Gilbert, Christian Whelan, Robert J. Townsend, Juli Robbins, Tavis Danz and Jean Michelle Sayeg. Sean Boyd deserves recognition for his staging of the exciting sword fights, all of which Lancelot wins, of course.

The live orchestra is directed by Craig Barna. Deserving credit for the staging are Glenn Casale, director, John Iacovelli, scenery, and Dan Mojica for choreography.

The show plays at Royce Hall, UCLA, through Sept. 23 and then departs for a national tour. There may be some chinks in its armor, but “Camelot” has its shining moments.