Stage: Camelot – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
THERE were tears in the eyes of a clearly choked-up Steven Stead when he took final bows during an enthusiastic standing ovation at Sunday’s opening of his KickstArt company’s latest musical, the Arthurian classic, Camelot.
It was easy to understand his emotion. The deafening applause was not only for the all-round excellence of a visually stunning production that Stead had long loved and wanted to produce, but also for his Merlinesquely magical performance in what was a dream role for him, that of King Arthur.
One also got the impression, judging by foyer chatter after the show, that part of the applause was in recognition of, and grateful thanks for, the ongoing excellence and versatility of one of this province’s most prized assets. Durban, in general, and I have said it often before, really has no idea of how very, very privileged it is to have KickstArt.
Camelot, a love triangle tale of romance, laughter, betrayal, hurt and might for right, took four Tony Awards when it first ran on Broadway in 1960. It is a constant joy as a musical, the wonderful score including the hit ballad, If Ever I Would Leave You, and such clever, tuneful and amusing numbers as Take Me to the Fair and I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight.
Stead’s Arthur is a truly memorable treat, a character he makes so very human and moving, leaving many in the audience tearful at the passion and purpose of his pre-interval speech about love and being civilised, and bawling by the production’s poignant final moments. So take tissues!
He’s in good voice too, looks fine with his new beard and longer hair, and exudes regality without pretension. For me, his Arthur marks Stead’s finest stage moment since his title role in Hamlet years ago. I bow to you, sire.
Stead might be the crowning glory in this rich production, but the unfailingly excellent Jessica Sole – most memorable, heretofore, as Princess Fiona in KickstArt’s Shrek the Musical and as Roxie Hart in last year’s Chicago – gives a nuanced and beautiful performance as Guenevere, Arthur’s queen and dearest love.
Sylphlike, porcelain skinned and in wonderful voice, she has never been more gorgeous in superb, detailed costumes by Terrence Bray, and with her cascading wig a rich red. A bow to you, too, milady.
Special mention must also go to Peter Court, enchanting as the doddery and dishevelled King Pellinor, a lost and beffudled oldtimer who lends light and laughter to Arthur’s palace. Court also fills the role of mystical Merlin, Arthur’s friend and teacher.
Featuring brilliant sets by Greg King, with truly exemplary lighting by Tina le Roux, Camelot is perfectly cast – Lyle Buxton proving a strong and handsome Lancelot, who wrestles with his conscience when he falls for Guinevere.
Nathan Kruger, who played one of the princes in KickstArt’s Into the Woods, is a strong stage presence and makes for an intriguing, blond Mordred, Arthur’s conniving son. However, and this is my only small gripe with this production, he makes Mordred too excessively camp for my liking, sometimes teetering on the brink of turning comic rather than being eerily sinister.
The ensemble is top-notch, standouts including Bryon McNeil, Cameron Botha and Tshepo Ncokoane, as knights who collude with Guenevere to try to plot Lancelot’s downfall; and Anthony Stonier, who, in a dark hooded cloak, does a great vocal job leading the musical’s rousing burn-at-the-stake sequence.
I also enjoyed Schoeman Smit’s performance as squire Dap, as well as Anne-Marie Clulow’s mystical Nimue, a character not featured in the Oscar-winning 1967 film version of Camelot that starred Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.
Note that the musical is long – there are a few additional songs not featured in the film version – but never does it drag.
I have mentioned him already, but another special mention of the costumes by Terrence Bray, with some marvellous ensemble costumes modelled on original designs by Andrew Botha. The ornate costumes in the scene when Lancelot is knighted are particularly breathtaking.
This production, smoothly directed by Stead with assistance from Mervyn McMurtry, featuring vocal direction by Shelley McLean, and deft, subtle choreography by Janine Bennewith (loved the Lusty Month of May picnic sequence!), runs only until June 3.
If you are a lover of musicals well done, you would be crazy to miss this one, especially with such a rich and clever score from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the team that also gave us My Fair Lady and Brigadoon.
For one brief, shining moment it will make you forget world worries as you wallow in its wonder and romanticism. Book now at Computicket.
PS: Proposition: please, please, please tour this one nationally, KickstArt!