Joust OK

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.

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.

Camelot tells 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.

York, at 65, does look like he's having a ball in the spotlight. His best film roles—Tybalt in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968), Brian in Cabaret (1972), D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1973)—are memorable but long ago. Other than the cameos with Mike Myers and one episode of The Simpsons (as Mason Fairbanks), this good actor has been slumming it in guest shots on Gilmore Girls and as the lead in one of those wretched Omega Code movies.

Michael York's not terrible in Camelot. Just...pleasant. He is an Arthur who never kicks it into second gear and rarely bothers to shift into first. He is perfectly content to idle as a king.

In something titled Jack and Jill, exactly what you expect to happen does. The title characters go up and down, tumbling in and out of love until they land splat in a puddle of misery. In two hours of short scenes, this minor play unfolds as a comedy, more or less. It's certainly not pure drama, even if the overdose of downer clichés does inspire the urge to seek out an antidote—say, something co-created by Ben and Jerry.

The two-act, two-actor comedy, now winding up the season for Second Thought Theatre at WaterTower's Studio space, is the work of the pseudonymous playwright "Jane Martin," who is generally believed to be a man, Jon Jory, artistic director of Actors' Theatre of Louisville, though he denies being Martin. Smart guy. Who'd want to take credit for the piffle passed off as wit in Jack and Jill?

The play presents two people who meet (in a library) and get involved. But they fight a lot, mostly because Jill is a hateful stereotype of a woman with ambitions greater than marriage and childbearing. Played by a tightly wound Kristin McCollum, Jill's a med student imbued with the personality of a wet viper. She hisses and strikes at Jack, played by Mike Schraeder, for the slightest intrusions on her space and time. She says things like "Don't confuse love with leverage," whatever that means. At their wedding she tells Jack, "I love you...or something."

Jack paddles along behind this bee-otch like a pup, taking abuse and begging for attention. She complains that he's "so generous, it's like water torture." Sure, that's what women hate—men who commit generosity.

It plods on with lines cluttered end to end with "ums" and "you knows" and "I don't knows." Example from Jack: "I am really very, um...we just shouldn't. You know what I mean?" Um, no. And don't care.

Directed by Doug Miller, Jack and Jill is a title in search of characters in search of humanity, with gimmicks aplenty (see how they change clothes for every scene in full view of the audience). As romantic comedy it wants to be Annie Hall or maybe Sex & the City. But it pales in comparison to those and as a piece for the stage just doesn't hold water.

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Elaine Liner
Contact: Elaine Liner