Chorale's 'Camelot' sparkles


Although Friday's performance of Camelot was canceled by 7 inches of snow - beyond the "legal limit" in the mythical kingdom - J. Ernest Green's Annapolis Chorale and soloists brought the classic musical to life Saturday for a capacity audience at Maryland Hall.

Lerner and Loewe's Camelot was the chorale's fifth annual "Broadway in Concert" production. Earlier concerts explored Damon Runyon's New York in Guys and Dolls, the Scottish Highlands of Brigadoon, the Russian village of Fiddler on the Roof and the Yorkshire moors of The Secret Garden.

In each of these productions, Green eliminated superfluous dialogue, props and sets, concentrating instead on the show's essence - the music.

Over the past five years, Green's singers have become a dream chorus, and he has built a formidable repertory group of soloists.

Baritone Steve Markuson has starred in four of the Annapolis Chorale's five shows, memorable as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Tommy Albright in Brigadoon and as Tevye in Fiddler.

Perhaps his most difficult role to date was as Camelot's King Arthur, the idealistic mastermind of the Round Table who in the play was drawn into a triangle by the two he most treasured, his beloved Queen Guenevere and his trusted Best Knight Lancelot.

The role of Arthur requires an actor to play a character who evolves from a young king thrust into power who first appears as he awaits the arrival of his bride, Guenevere, through his attempts to democratize chivalry, then as a weakened king brought down by those he loves.

Markuson succeeded on all counts, giving a powerful multidimensional portrayal within restricted stage space and without scenery or props and with minimal dialogue. His mellifluous baritone brought unsuspected beauty to the title song and to "How to Handle a Woman," adding an exciting dimension in a King Arthur who could sing.

Sarah Blaskowsky's Guenevere was an ideal partner to Markuson's Arthur, her singing and acting talents matching his. Bringing an appealing girlish charm to her earlier scenes, Blaskowsky later conveyed a believable mature affection for the king and a conflicted longing for Lancelot. In her singing of "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," "The Lusty Month of May," and "Before I Gaze at You Again," Blaskowsky's clear expressive soprano and superb diction reminded me of Julie Andrews, the original Guenevere on Broadway in 1960.

Having sung in most of the chorale's "Broadway in Concert" offerings, Laurie Hays has presumably attained major status in Green's repertory company. In the dual roles of Lady Sybil and Nimue, Hays contributed mightily, singing a gorgeous off-stage "Follow Me" that was spellbinding.

Baritone Ryan De Ryke's Lancelot was a study in absolutes that proved a highlight of the evening. Ryke's grand posturing as the perfect knight was on the mark, reaching comic dimensions in "C'est Moi." His later scenes as he gazes at Guenevere were compelling, and Ryke's singing of "If Ever I Would Leave You" was alone worth the price of admission.

Another cast member who must have earned a place in Green's repertory company is Thomas Magette, who was a believable, warm and humorous Merlyn, Arthur's mentor.

Also on his way to being one of the repertory group was Jim Knost, excellent as Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son, who intends to take Camelot without waiting to inherit his father's kingdom. Knost's Mordred brought some bite to a cast filled with righteous characters.

The genius of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was apparent in "The Seven Deadly Virtues." An even nastier Mordred sang the up-tempo "Fie on Goodness, Fie."

Rounding out the excellent cast were Christopher Rhodovi as Dinadan, Katie Hale as Morgan Le Fey and Lisa Hinkley as a Lady in Waiting. The chorus was superb, energized in "The Lusty Month of May" and pulse-stirring in "Guenevere."

Again, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra proved its versatility, this time seemingly able to grace the pit of any Broadway theater. Mostly, it is music director Green who makes the magic happen, bringing more sparkle to classic show tunes than they ever seemed to possess.

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