TRAGIC TRIANGLE Wilson Jr., Thorne, and Gibel.
Camelot is a hard musical not to like, even for those who don’t like to like musicals. Of course, there are those gorgeous, intelligent, character-illuminating songs. But more importantly, there is the story. It’s romantic and idealistic about love and our species’ ability to stifle aggression, and at the same time it’s hard-headedly realistic, acknowledging that in the end the best plans of lovers and peacemakers often fall to pieces.
The Trinity Repertory Company production (through October 10) is a marvelous rendition of the tale, adapted from T. H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King. Director Curt Columbus preserves everything that was in the 1960 musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, and adds a dimension.
Things are firmly rooted in reality, while letting the idealism and any optimism speak for itself. To that purpose, Eugene Lee designed the gritty set and lighting, putting the audience under the nighttime bombings of the German Blitz of 1940 and 1941. We are in the Brompton Road Station, and now and then small bits of brick debris fall like snowfall on the storage-cluttered subway platform stage.
The effect is at first disconcerting, as we are asked to picture medieval characters while watching actors in Argyle sweater vests and other period street clothes. But before long, magic happens. As soon as we are immersed in the play, the story springs to the fore and all else fades to the background.
As many of us are familiar from the 1967 film, King Arthur (Stephen Thorne) meets an initially reluctant Queen Guenevere (Rebecca Gibel), who is comically resistant to their politically arranged marriage and is quickly disarmed by his sweet charm. Arthur establishes the Knights of the Round Table, at her urging, to initiate a new, “civilized” sort of warriorship, where might is not right for its own sake, but rather might is for right. (Knights can still have fun riding around and “whack away” at miscreants, though, to get that out of their system.) The foremost knight attracted from across Europe is Lancelot du Lac (Joe Wilson Jr.), an immensely capable but hopelessly, and hilariously self-impressed Frenchman (e.g., his song “C’est Moi”). Tragically and inevitably, Gwen and Lance fall in love.
Thorne is the perfect choice to play Arthur, not only because he beautifully explores the character’s emotional gamut, from gentleness to rage, but also because of his (he must be so tired of hearing this) boyishness. King Arthur was, after all, just a stone-skipping lad nicknamed Wart in the first quarter of White’s novel, and that innocence is a major component of the king.
As Guenevere, Gibel gives us a royal we can respect, from her initial girlish foolishness to her fateful, passionate weakness years later. Whether singing the demurely bawdy “The Lusty Month of May” or the soft, soulful “Before I Gaze at You Again,” she keeps us riveted.