‘Camelot’ at the Lyric Stage Company feels new and intimate
Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot’’ has often suffered from bloat and bombast — something that lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was seemingly aware of from the start.
Of a marathon-length 1960 tryout performance of “Camelot’’ in Toronto, Lerner once joked: “Only ‘Tristan und Isolde’ equaled it as a bladder contest.’’
You needn’t fear any such physical challenges during Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s streamlined production of “Camelot.’’ Director Spiro Veloudos, working with an adaptation by TV writer-producer David Lee (“Cheers,’’ “Frasier’’), has reconceived the sprawling tale of the love triangle among King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and Sir Lancelot as a chamber musical that clocks in at a little over two hours, including intermission.
If a certain royal grandeur and sense of pageantry is lost in the process, what this approach to “Camelot’’ offers is close-up, human-scale intimacy and a showcase for a trio of performers who have the chops to make that intimacy mean something: Ed Hoopman as Arthur; Maritza Bostic as Guenevere; and Jared Troilo as Lancelot.
The fourth star, in effect, is Veloudos, a longtime stalwart of Boston theater who serves as the producing artistic director at Lyric Stage. Helming his first production since his left leg was amputated below the knee in December due to an infection stemming from type 2 diabetes, Veloudos demonstrates that he’s lost none of his knack for staging musicals in a manner both taut and expressive.
“Camelot’’ premiered on Broadway in 1960, and, of course, became a shorthand metaphor for John F. Kennedy’s presidency after his assassination, thanks to some deft myth-making by Jacqueline Kennedy. King Arthur gives voice to some New Frontier-style idealism in the musical; he is determined that he and his Knights of the Round Table will usher in a “new order of chivalry,’’ along with a system of justice undergirded by civil law. “We are civilized!’’ he exclaims. Arthur wrestles with how best to use his power; his overriding goal is to deploy “might for right.’’ The versatile Hoopman delivers a deftly shaded portrayal of Arthur that traces his evolution from uncertain monarch (“ill at ease in my crown’’) to firm-minded ruler, from besotted husband to angry cuckold, from eager naif to sadder but wiser figure.
Part of what makes Arthur sadder and wiser is the appearance of Mordred, his out-of-wedlock son, who is a very bad seed indeed. While Arthur holds utopian views and appeals to the best in people, Mordred (played in a suitably treacherous vein by Rory Boyd) hews to a dark vision and appeals to all that’s base.
Though “Camelot’’ comes across as less of a fusty warhorse in the Lyric Stage production than is usually the case, it still feels old-fashioned in spots. The lyrics to tunes like “Fie on Goodness’’ and “The Seven Deadly Virtues’’ are spiced with Lerner’s clever wordplay, and composer Frederick Loewe’s graceful way with a melody is in evidence throughout, but the score is still no match for the masterpiece Lerner and Loewe introduced four years earlier, “My Fair Lady.’’
Veloudos, a specialist in the work of Stephen Sondheim, is working here on an abstractly sylvan set, designed by Shelley Barish, whose platforms and serpentine branches evoke the folkloric deconstructions of Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods’’ more than the mists of Arthurian legend.
It was in a 2014 Lyric Stage production of “Into the Woods,’’ directed by Veloudos, that Bostic, then about to graduate from Salem State University, made clear she was an actress to watch with an indelible performance as Little Red Riding Hood. Veloudos made her part of the cast last year in his production of the revue “Sondheim on Sondheim.’’ Now, stepping into a lead role in “Camelot,’’ Bostic rewards Veloudos’s faith in her. Her appealing portrayal of Guenevere captures the queen’s irreverence, the character’s yearning qualities (starting with Bostic’s rendition of “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood’’), and her sadness when matters spiral out of control.
The forceful ardor Troilo brings to “If Ever I Would Leave You’’ doesn’t just get Act 2 off to a strong start; it communicates the stakes, as Lancelot sees them, of the forbidden romance with Guenevere that will ultimately throw the royal court into turmoil.
This is not the first Lerner and Loewe musical for Troilo: He was a memorably foppish Freddy Eynsford-Hill in “My Fair Lady’’ at Lyric Stage two years ago. In “Camelot,’’ Troilo fortifies his status as a performer who blends romantic charisma with sharp comic timing as well as anyone currently working on Boston stages. Somebody really ought to cast this actor in a Noel Coward play.
Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted by David Lee. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Choreography, Rachel Bertone. Music director, Catherine Stornetta. Presented by Lyric Stage Company of Boston, through June 25. Tickets start at $25, 617-585-5678, www.lyricstage.com