Compass Rose Theater's current production of Lerner and Loewe's classic 1960 musical "Camelot" is faithful to the legend of King Arthur in advocating truth, honor and justice, but offers those ideals in a contemporary show graced by a dynamic cast with fresh vitality.
Known for its emphasis on wizardry, "Camelot" as interpreted by Compass Rose has its own distinctive magic. The production benefits not only from the casting but also the expert delivery of musical numbers, imaginative staging and creative set design. Added artful touches include appropriate costuming to enhance every actor.
This show — which usually has a cast of 30 or more — is tackled by 12 members here, including the lead roles of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. That leaves nine actors to play a dozen roles, among them skilled singers, including the powerful Jaecob Lynn as Sir Dinadan.
Compass Rose regulars know the wizardry here stems from artistic director Lucinda Merry-Browne, whose casting expertise is displayed in her choice of stellar leads and strong support players, while her adroit use of space proves ideal for staging this drama.
Also evident is Merry-Browne's dedication to the education of young actors and audience members, here introducing young audiences to the tale of naive Arthur pulling the sword from the stone to become king of England. At the run's first Sunday matinee performance, Arthur's story was relished by a front row of enchanted young girls.
Camelot tells the story of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot, beginning with Arthur nervously waiting with teacher-friend Merlin for his bride's arrival. Later, the arrival of Lancelot engenders Guinevere's initial disdain — evolving into mutual attraction and a disruptive love affair. Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred, senses the opportunity to destroy King Arthur's ideal kingdom.
Bringing vibrant life to characters, the cast is headed by actor-singer Carl Pariso as Arthur in his Compass Rose debut. Disarmingly accessible in naivete, humility and idealism, Pariso's Arthur relates his story with enchanting wonder.
When he describes his kingdom to Guinevere as: "a most congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering," the audience becomes as seduced as she. Pariso is a natural for the part, compelling with each song, from "How to Handle A Woman" to "What Do the Simple Folk Do" to his "Camelot" reprise.
As Guinevere, Anna DeBlasio is equally skilled as an actor-singer. She possesses a classically trained voice, investing each song with emotion to reveal unsuspected depth in Lerner's lyrics. DeBlasio's Guinevere is smart, strong, independent and passionately devoted to Arthur and his ideals.
Yet she becomes passionately swept into a relationship with the charismatic Lancelot, eloquently expressed in her "I Loved You Once in Silence."
Joe Ventricelli makes a memorable Compass Rose debut as Lancelot, displaying strong comedic skills in his introductory "C'est Moi." Ventricelli knows his way around a song, as demonstrated in his touching version of the show's most memorable tune: "If Ever I Would Leave You." Here, it's flawlessly delivered to mark a high point in the show.
Making his American stage debut in this production, New Zealand actor Tim Garner invests Merlin with kindness, patience and strength as Arthur's beloved teacher, bringing his own magic to the role.
Joe Rossi brings warmth and humor to his portrayal of Pellinore; and in her Compass Rose debut, Katie Boothroyd plays Lady Anne and displays a striking soprano voice, beguiling the audience in the signature song "Follow Me."
Compass Rose Young Actors' Studio alum Eric McGraw appears as Knight and Squire Dap. And St. Mary's Elementary eighth-grader Sarah Grace Clifton skillfully delivers hope at the show's end as a young knight candidate.
Among the artistic team, the work of lighting designer Jason Lynch is notable, along with the contributions of the costume design team of Renee Vergauwen, Katie Boothroyd, Beth Terranova, Elizabeth Holt and Mary Ruth Cowgirl.
"Camelot" runs through Jan. 22 at Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Road, Annapolis. For tickets and showtimes, go to compassrosetheater.org or call box office at 410-980-6662.