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2nd Star Productions’ Camelot

Rich not only in sound but also in spectacle

The crowd watches as Lancelot (Ben Harris) resurrects Sir Lionel (Josh Hampton). <<photo by Nathan Jackson>>

Atorch flickers in the castle keep before the orchestra plays a note, illuminating the Dark Ages and modern times alike with the dream of Camelot. 2nd Star Productions’ revival of Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 blockbuster sparkles like a chandelier with 33 local stars in sumptuous costumes and sets, under the visionary direction of Jane B. Wingard. It’s three hours of enchantment and unflagging entertainment.
    The myth follows the rise and fall of King Arthur’s (Gary Seddon) Knights of the Round Table, from Arthur’s ambivalent youth to his transformation at the side of Queen Guenevere (Emily Mudd) and court favorite Sir Lancelot (Ben Harris), whose joint betrayal is exposed by Arthur’s evil and illegitimate son, Mordred (Michael Mathes). It’s about crossroads of idealism: Arthur’s romantic notion of might for right, Guinevere’s romantic notions of courtly love and Lancelot’s divinely inspired devotion undone by narcissism. Once Merlin the Magician (Gene Valendo), Arthur’s childhood guardian and teacher, is spirited away by the woodland nymph Nimue (Erin Paxton) — and despite the good counsel of his venerable sidekick Pellinore (Marty Hayes) — Arthur is helpless against Mordred and his sorceress aunt, Morgan LeFey (Rebecca Feibel).
    From Arthur’s opening I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight to his stirring Camelot and vengeful lover’s soliloquy, Seddon finesses the accidental monarch’s turmoil with a voice and bearing as rich as his royal coffers. Mudd’s Guenevere is lovely as a day in The Lusty Month of May, sweet and vibrant as Sarah Brightman in Before I Gaze at You Again and The Simple Joys of Maidenhood. Harris’ Lancelot is vain with good reason, so charming and talented the Frenchman with the Spanish accent sounds more exotic than suspicious. He really sells his signature songs C’est Moi and If Ever I Would Leave You.
    There is smart comedic timing between the leads, but stellar leads alone don’t make this a stellar show. There isn’t a knave among the court to spoil this royal flush of singers and dancers. Mathes’ Mordred is wickedly watchable, even when he forgets his lines in The Seven Deadly Virtues; Paxton bewitches in Follow Me. Feibel is sensuous and spineless in The Persuasion. Choristers Nick Mudd and Zac Fadler shine in Fie on Goodness, as does Valendo in Guenevere.
    This show is rich not only in sound but also in spectacle, with garlands and glitter, jugglers and masqueraders. The trees of the enchanted forest sway as if they’re alive. The inspired choreography is evocative and precise, from the Maypole dance to the Enchanted Forest where faeries cavort with satyr-like unicorns. The Jester (Maureen Ripple) delights with gymnastic tumbling, and even the crowds follow the imaginary action as one during the pivotal joust when Lancelot defeats three knights. When he resurrects one with his miraculous touch, gasps whisper through the audience.
    To call this troupe’s performance divine would be stretching it, especially considering the 10-piece orchestra that preferred to remain anonymous — for good reason. They sometimes drowned out Guenevere’s lyrics and were constantly at odds with each others’ pitches. Hayes’ dialogue, likewise, was often lost to inarticulation. But after last season’s Fiddler On the Roof, which I found to be middling, it’s exciting to see 2nd Star back on track with the high standard of professionalism for which its musicals are known.
    “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment, that was known as Camelot …” And don’t let its magical reincarnation pass you by.

Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Choreography: Rebekka Meyer. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
Playing thru June 29, F & Sa at 8pm, Su at 3pm at 2nd Star Productions at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Dr., Bowie. $20 with discounts; rsvp 410-757-5700;