Smoke pours out over the stage, the sound of drums and the swell of music fills the room as men in glistening armor march in a carefully choreographed formation; a man, a king, cries out in anguish at the catastrophic chain of events that have befallen his kingdom.
Incidents ensue that create a divide between himself and the people he loves the most, and shatter his vision of order and justice. The time is roughly between the late fifth to early sixth century C.E. The place? The castle of Camelot. The man before us? None other than King Arthur.
Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” whisks us away to this magical, far off land where knights in shining armor are the status quo and chivalry, far from being dead, is at the height of its popularity.
Although this particular version begins in media res at the dissolution of the kingdom as a consequence of Sir Lancelot du Lac and Queen Guinevere’s treasonous romantic relations, after the opening tableau, we are quickly transported back to a much happier time: King Arthur’s wedding day.
We see not only his apprehension at getting married, leaving his boyish playfulness and Merlin’s guidance behind to fulfill his obligations as a husband and a King, but also qualms on Guinevere’s part at leaving a normal life and “the simple joys of maidenhood” behind in order to become the Queen.
Through a chance encounter, the two meet without realizing that they are betrothed to one another, fall in love pretty much at first sight, get married and seem to be on the path to a medieval happily ever after.
Enter Sir Lancelot du Lac, the manifestation of physical perfection who, because of his never-ending quest for virtue and self-cultivation, has never been defeated in battle. Although he is initially seen as a boorish prude, he quickly proves himself invaluable to King Arthur as a friend and advisor—and to Queen Guinevere as well as the object of her affection.
In spite of their newfound feelings for one another, Lancelot and Guinevere manage to keep their romance in check until Arthur’s illegitimate son and the villain of the musical, Mordred, sets up a trap, which causes the adulterous nature of their relationship to come to light and brings us full-circle to the battlefield where the musical begins.
I came to this production with the expectation of seeing a Broadway-quality show with talented actors and actresses, magnificent music and visually stunning costumes and scenery in the familiar setting of The Grand Opera House.
What I was not expecting, however, was how relevant the subject matter would be to the college-aged population.
The character of Merlin, with his encouragement of critical thinking, seemed to embody the principles of a liberal arts education.
Lancelot, with his questioning and adaptation of his values and worldview, was highly reminiscent of what most of us likely experienced freshman year.
Arthur, with his struggling to find a balance between his responsibilities as a king and a leader of his people, and his human instincts seemed parallel to making the transition from adolescence into full-fledged adulthood.
“Camelot”at The Grand Opera House provided a glimpse into the “one brief shining moment” that was the height of King Arthur’s reign while at the same time addressing questions and issues that have affected human beings throughout the course of history and that are still relevant to audiences of all ages today.