Critics' picks: New DVDs

Pretend you're in the theater with this `Camelot'

April 29, 2007|By J. Wynn Rousuck

CAMELOT -- Acorn / $29.99

With a new revival of Lerner and Loewe's Arthurian musical, Camelot, scheduled to play the Hippodrome Theatre next season, the release of the DVD version of the 1981 Broadway revival seemed like a good way to become reacquainted with this sumptuous work.

Originally broadcast on HBO in 1983, this DVD is essentially an archival recording of the stage production that starred Richard Harris, re-creating his 1967 movie role. The liner notes by Harris' co-star, Meg Bussert, explain that the taping was done over several days and included some re-staging specifically for the cameras. But TV director Marty Callner has clearly tried to simulate the experience of occupying a seat at the Winter Garden Theatre.

The slow-moving film begins with a shot of the Winter Garden audience and ends with the curtain call. Singing wasn't Harris' forte when he played King Arthur on screen and, 16 years later, his intonation was still far from regal. But there's nobility in his manner and bearing, and the close-ups give us a vantage point denied even those in the Winter Garden's front rows.

Bussert, who plays Queen Guenevere, has a beautiful voice and brings playful charm to such lighthearted numbers as "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and "Then You May Take Me to the Fair." As the third member of Camelot's romantic triangle, Richard Muenz imbues Sir Lancelot with sufficient smugness and super-seriousness to make his "C'est Moi" an amusing introduction to the French knight. But the director has taken the lyric "And here I stand" far too literally, barely allowing this robust character to move an inch during his character-establishing song.

The splendor of Oliver Smith's scenery for the original production of Camelot made such a strong impression on me as a child that I went home and made a model of the set out of Styrofoam and gold-colored spray paint. For this Richard Harris revival, designer Desmond Heeley appears to have gone for a more ethereal look; the result, however, frequently resembles the cover of a sci-fi fantasy novel. Nor is there much vibrancy in Buddy Schwab's choreography; his "Lusty Month of May" is more listless than lustful.

You won't know the identity of the choreographer or designers, or, for that matter, most of the cast, until the end, however, because the box and even the insert supply few names. To learn these in advance, you have to insert the DVD in your computer and call up a copy of the original Playbill. Print that out, fire up the DVD player and you can pretend you're in the theater. Or, wait until March and see the show live at the Hippodrome, where Michael York will wear Arthur's crown.

Special features

Barely "simple joys," these are disappointingly paltry. Besides Bussert's liner notes and the DVD-ROM Playbill, there are written biographies of Harris and of the show's creators, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

THE BEST OF THE TONY AWARDS - THE PLAYS --Acorn / $19.99

This hourlong compendium of 19 scenes from Tony Awards broadcasts is a real treat. The telecast has never quite figured out how to showcase the nonmusical nominees. Almost any approach seems to pale compared with the splashy musical numbers. But you wouldn't know that from this treasure of a compendium.

The anthology features scenes from four August Wilson plays (including a scene from The Piano Lesson starring native Baltimorean Charles S. Dutton) and two Wendy Wasserstein plays. Performances by actors who are no longer with us - Art Carney, Madeline Kahn - are also captured. There's even an excerpt showing the young James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander in the play that established their careers, The Great White Hope.

J. Wynn Rousuck

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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