Joust OK

A cut-down Camelot comes to Fair Park; in Jack and Jill, love has ups and downs

My, my, Michael York looks happy. Why shouldn't he? He's starring in a national tour of Camelot, getting away with sleepwalking through a role for which he's 30 years too old. But he's famous! He's charming! He's British! That appears to be enough for York and for his languid King Arthur, ruler of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "most congenial spot."

York, crisp of diction but giving the barest wisp of a performance in the musical, starts his "happy ever-aftering" just after the curtain goes up and stays giddy as a goose for the next two and a half hours. The actor even sports a toothy smile when he's talk-singing Arthur's plaintive ballads. If he were any more lightweight, he'd have to wear lead boots to keep from floating up to the rafters.

Whatever juice this Arthur is hopped up on keeps him from minding much that his queen, spunky Guenevere (played by Rachel York, not married to or otherwise related to Michael), is getting thrust in her royal loins by his most trusted knight, Lancelot du Lac (James Barbour). Arthur seems only vaguely aware that his kingdom is about to crumble around his ears. What, him worry? He'd rather sing and dance a little (very little) than get involved in matters of state.

Michael York, best known as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies, sleepwalks through his role as King Arthur in Camelot.
Michael York, best known as Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies, sleepwalks through his role as King Arthur in Camelot.

Details

Camelot continues through June 3 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Call 214-631-2787.

Jack and Jill continues at the Studio at WaterTower Theatre. Call 970-452-6232.

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To state it plainly, what's onstage at the Music Hall at Fair Park is Camelot lite, a sweetened, condensed version of the 1962 Broadway classic. It arrives with one name star (you know him best as Basil Exposition from the Austin Powers movies) but sans some songs (gone is the lovely "I Loved You Once in Silence") and minus the haunting melancholy of a young King Arthur and any build-up of tensions among the paramours in the romantic triangle.

This shortened presentation, directed by Glenn Casale, still bogs down on Lerner's talky book bits, edited by and added to here by Lerner's son Michael. Fie on those wheezy monologues by Arthur about "a new order" in the kingdom. There is lovely singing of what's left of those lovely songs. Rachel York, who starred on Broadway in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and City of Angels, lends her heavily miked soprano to "Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and "Before I Gaze at You Again," and she taunts the knights with a jaunty "Take Me to the Fair." Those of us who spent a few hundred hours of childhood memorizing every trill of the original Broadway cast album of Camelot starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton might suspect that Ms. York is lifting her voice, note for note, in Dame Julie's lilting inflections, but even so, she's nice in the role. (Too bad she has to claw so often at her long red wig, strands of which keep sticking to her lip gloss.)

And there is Barbour, a strapping lad who's lent his thundering baritone to leading roles in Broadway shows including the Sondheim musical Assassins and Disney's Beauty and the Beast (he played the hairy one). His Lance is one hefty chunk of nobility, a handsome swain who wears silver armor molded to his mighty pecs. When Barbour opens his jaws to belt "If Ever I Should Leave You," now shoved farther into the second half of the show, it does send a thrilling shiver.

Based on T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Camelot re-imagines the reign of Arthur Pendragon and his creation of the Knights of the Round Table, which may or may not have occurred in 5th-century Britain. According to legend, Arthur earned his right to rule by pulling the sword Excalibur from a stone. He learned how to be king from Merlyn, a court conjurer who aged backward from old to young (played in the show by a strangely dreadlocked Eric Anderson). Arthur married Guenevere, whom he loved but who cuckolded him with the French Sir Lancelot.

Camelottells the story up to the part where Lance saves the disgraced queen from death at the burning stake. No fairy-tale ending. Arthur's Round Table is destroyed, along with his dream of a peaceful England ruled by "might for right." Poor Guenevere cuts off her hair and hies herself to a nunnery. Lancelot, once a seeker of the Holy Grail, lams it back to Gaul, ending his days as a hermit.

A sad story, but you wouldn't know it from this production and the way they skip and hop around in their pink and purple velvets. Only the set design hints at doom and gloom. Ghastly flat trees, forced perspective archways and faux unicorn tapestries have been designed by John Iacovelli in a style roughly 1,000 years later than it all should be historically (as if accuracy made a whit of difference in a mid-budget musical).

In the middle of it all stands Michael York, grinning like the Cheshire puss and speaking his lines in the sing-songy rhythms of an actor going through the motions while thinking of what he'll order from room service later. He swings his arms wide to emphasize the end of every phrase and poses with fists on hips like Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.

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