Both 'Camelot' and Goulet seem a little weary

June 02, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

A place where the seasons and weather are forever fixed and unchangeable would probably be pretty dull, but that's the way things are in Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot." It also describes the placid feel of the touring production starring Robert Goulet at the Lyric Opera House.

King Arthur's wise teacher, Merlyn, was said to be able to "remember the future," so he probably could have predicted that Goulet, who made his Broadway debut in the role of Lancelot in 1960, would return to the now-classic musical more than three decades later as older-but-wiser King Arthur.

While this production will most likely appeal to Goulet fans, he is not the best thing about it. Not that he's bad. He's a far smoother crooner than Richard Burton, who originated the role.

But Goulet is not a smoother actor. When his Arthur first encounters Guenevere, he seems more exhausted than enamored. Lancelot's enthusiastic bravado leaves him wearier still. Granted, Goulet uses a little of this weariness to comic effect, but in the end, when his civilized kingdom begins to crumble, it's difficult to differentiate his disappointment from his previous enervation. If Goulet wanted to emphasize Arthur's senior citizen status, perhaps he should have put some gray in his hair and beard.

Goulet's demeanor contrasts markedly with that of his sprightly co-stars. As Guenevere, Patricia Kies brings a lively spirit to the role as well as a vocal quality reminiscent of the original Guenevere, Julie Andrews.

Steve Blanchard's Lancelot is competing in the singing department with the memory of Goulet's own performance, and however he may stack up, his ringing delivery of "If Ever I Would Leave You" is a vocal high point. In addition, Lancelot's attraction to Guenevere is evident in almost every note. And, even in the character's most conceited moments, Blanchard's Lancelot reveals just enough self-awareness to show what Guenevere sees in him.

Merlyn and cheerful old King Pellinore are once again played by James Valentine, who doubled in the same roles at the Lyric in 1986 in a national tour starring Richard Harris. This time around, however, Valentine overdoes some of the elderly Pellinore's cute antics. In contrast, while Valentine's Pellinore is excessively adorable, Tucker McCrady's evil Mordred is so-so, instead of sinister.

It seems fitting that the chief scenic feature of this unimaginative production is a central pedestal, which holds, at various times, a tree, a throne or a tent. (The scenery's "supervision" -- whatever that means -- is credited in the program to Neil Peter Jampolis.) The prosaic direction and choreography are by Norbert Joerder.

Now nearing the end of a two-year North American tour, this "Camelot" has reportedly racked up a king's ransom. In terms of advance sales, however, Baltimore audiences have proved slow to add their coins to the royal coffers. Their hesitation is easier to understand than the claim of this stolidly satisfactory production that it is "one of the most popular and successful musical tours in recent theatrical history."

Perhaps the best assessment can be found in one of the show's own lyrics. The title song -- which was a favorite of President Kennedy's and has been heard on radio and TV quite a lot in connection with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' recent death -- includes the line, "In short there's simply not a more congenial spot." This production also achieves a congenial state, but it does so by favoring pomp over pizazz.

'CAMELOT'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; through June 12

Tickets: $25-$50

$ Call: (410) 625-1400

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