When Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot" debuted on Broadway in 1960 with a cast headed by Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guinevere and Robert Goulet, an unknown Canadian in his first starring role, as Lancelot, the musical became an instant hit.
Fifty-three years later, "Camelot" retains its luster, especially in 2nd Star's current production, now playing at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park.
Frederick Loewe's music and Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics are magic. Lerner is also responsible for the book, allowing King Arthur's message of hope and idealism to permeate almost every scene. Perhaps the play's enduring attraction because of its link to President John F. Kennedy, a bond forged when first lady Jacqueline Kennedy called Arthur's last song in "Camelot" the president's favorite. For many, Kennedy's three-year presidency has been connected to the musical for more than half a century.
In 2nd Star's production, director and producer Jane Wingard — a founding member and current president who has directed more than half of the company's shows over its 17 seasons — adds another triumph. Wingard has found a stellar cast and paced the show so that it moves along smoothly, despite its length.
If directing the cast of 40 was not daunting enough, Wingard also assumed the role of set designer. Assisting in set decoration and dressing is Bill Bagaria.
In his sixth show as director for 2nd Star, Joe Biddle conducts his musicians through a challenging score that requires almost constant playing for the nearly three-hour show. On opening night, Biddle and the orchestra were up to most challenges of this musical's 20 songs, and they will undoubtedly add sparkle as performances continue.
Rebekka Meyer serves as choreographer, and Linda Swann is costume designer.
The production is brightened by Gary Seddon as King Arthur, growing in the role as he moves from a naive young man waiting for his bride to a compassionate leader with vision and strength. Seddon's Arthur has a natural rapport with trusted friend Merlin, warmth with Guinevere and admiration for Lancelot. This King Arthur can also sing and dance.
Last seen in 2nd Star's "Oklahoma" as Laurey, Emily Mudd takes on the challenging role of Guinevere, growing from a reluctant young bride to a regal queen. She is enchantingly playful at times, as in "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" and contemplative at others. Mudd does well conveying an ambivalence toward Lancelot that eventually turns to love. Her fine singing is most compelling in "I Loved You Once in Silence."
Also seen in the troupe's "Oklahoma" is Ben Harris, who plays self-righteous Lancelot. Harris adds a needed air of insufferability to "C'est Moi" and delivers a heartfelt "If Ever I Would Leave You" — perhaps the show's greatest hit.
Making a strong 2nd Star debut is Severna Park High School junior Erin Paxton, who beguiles as sorceress Nimue, interpreting the haunting "Follow Me" in dance and song. Reliable 2nd Star favorite Marty Hayes brings warm humor to his portrayal of King Pellinore.
Playing Arthur's trusted friend Merlin is Gene Valendo, in his fifth appearance with the troupe, who brings an engaging charm to his sorcery. In his second appearance at 2nd Star, Nicholas Mudd is a deliciously nasty Mordred, bringing a menacing note to "Seven Deadly Virtues."
Also noteworthy is young Patrick Gorirossi as Tom of Warwick, who restores hope to Arthur that the ideals of Camelot will endure as he recites the mantra "Not might makes right, but might for right."
Compassion triumphs, and we leave Camelot savoring Arthur's words: "Don't let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/That was known as Camelot."
The 2nd Star production continues weekends at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive in Bowie, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., through June 29. For information and to order tickets, call 410-757-5700 or 301-832-4819, or go to 2ndstarproductions.com.
Wine and Words
Bay Theatre Company gave one final performance of its Wine and Words series last week with a reading of Los Angeles playwright Elizabeth Sampson's "The Petoskey Stones," co-hosted by Dignity Players at the Annapolis Unitarian Universalist Church. Bay's artistic director and co-founder, Janet Luby, and Bay's Associate Actors created this series a few seasons ago to give the community free play readings, along with with the shared camaraderie of mingling over wine before and after each event.
"Stones," about the deep bruises that come to the surface when family members get together, tells of four sisters who arrive at their grandmother's Michigan cottage to come to terms with their mother's death, and with their own lives' past and future.
Drawn from Bay artists, the cast featured Janet Luby, Rena Cherry Brown, Valerie Leonard, Alicia Sweeney and Jennifer Mendenhall, and was directed by the playwright's husband, Scott Alan Smith.