‘Camelot’ without the pomp, in Red Bank

camelot

PHOTOS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Britney Coleman and Oliver Thornton co-star in “Camelot” at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

“The rain may never fall till after sundown/By 8, the morning fog must disappear,” sings Oliver Thornton as King Arthur, the title character of “Camelot.” But he does so with a wink and a shrug: You know his Arthur doesn’t believe in this mythical place any more than the audience does.

Under David Lee’s direction, the production of “Camelot” that is currently at Red Bank’s Two River Theater tells this grand story of passion and betrayal — with the fate of much of Europe hanging in the balance — in a rather intimate way. There are only eight actors, and eight musicians; the costumes mix modern casual wear with accessories meant to suggest Arthurian times. Some of the comic relief comes from troupe members scampering around the stage to help with sound or visual effects.

The production succeeds, largely, through the winsomeness of its Lerner and Loewe score, and a great performance by Britney Coleman as Queen Guenevere. Coleman sounds a lot like Julie Andrews (who originated the role on Broadway) when she sings, but puts her own stamp on the role with a beguiling mischievousness. You really feel that this is a character who, even though she takes her queenly responsibilities seriously, will follow her feelings wherever they lead, consequences be damned.

That’s necessary for the role, since Lancelot (played by Nicholas Rodriguez) seems like a bit of a dull stud. Guenevere falling for him makes no sense, since Arthur is quite handsome himself, and still young and virile; she believes in Arthur’s idealistic political mission as much as he does, and they still have a strong bond even after she strays. So she has to have a touch of flightiness, and Coleman gives her just the right amount.

This is a character who knows who she is. Rodriguez’s Lancelot, though, seems mystified to have fallen for Guenevere, so we feel mystified by it, too. Rodriguez does sing well, though, particularly on the tender “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

Thornton, though not as charismatic as Coleman, does a good job at seeming boyish as the young Arthur but a bit beaten down by his duties as the older Arthur. He’s 35, which may seem a bit young for the part, but Richard Burton and Richard Harris were of a similar age when the played the role on Broadway and in the 1967 film, respectively.

In supporting roles, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka effectively embraces the sliminess of the plotting scoundrel Mordred, and Ryan G. Dunkin, Kent Overshown and Perry Sook add manly feats and occasional laughs as three of Arthur’s knights.

This isn’t the deepest of musicals — the characters are simply not complex enough for that — but its lighter-toned numbers, such as “The Lusty Month of May” and “Then You May Take Me to the Fair,” are truly irresistible, and its philosophical ending does make you think a bit. While this production isn’t exactly regal, it does have its own earthy charms — and a bit of magic, thanks to Coleman.

Shows are scheduled for Nov. 26 and Dec. 3 and 10 at 1 and 7 p.m.; Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 6 and 13 at 3 and 8 p.m.; Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 at 3 and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 4-5 and 11-12 at 8 p.m.; and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. There are also student matinees at 10 a.m. Nov. 25 and Dec. 4 and 11. Visit tworivertheater.org.

The ensemble in "Camelot," which is at Two River Theater in Red Bank through Dec.  14.

The ensemble in “Camelot,” which is at Two River Theater in Red Bank through Dec. 14.

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