Communique: Not Your Grandmother's "Camelot," But The Myth & Music Remain

Jul 6, 2017

Opera House Theatre Company brings the musical Camelot to the Thalian Hall stage this month. This tale has staying power-who knows how long this legend of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin, Lancelot and the rest has been told? We know the musical is 67 years old...but don't expect your grandmother's Camelot. Director Shane Fernando talks about crafting this production for 21st century audiences, and why the tale is as relevant as ever. Listen above and see an extended transcript (and photos) below. 

 

Camelot is onstage Thursday, July 6-Sunday, July, 9; Friday, July 14-Sunday, July 16; and Friday, July 21-Sunday July 23. Sunday showtime is 3:00pm, the other nights at 8:00pm. Tickets are available at the door, online, and by telephone at 910-632-2285.

 

Gina: Shane, you are the director of Camelot. My first question is, is this my grandmother's Camelot?
 

Heather Setzler as Guinevere, Jamey Stone as Pellinore, Sam Robison as King Arthur
Credit WHQR/gg

Shane: No, it certainly is not. Not all the way around. The music is sacred. And so we have left the music untouched and it is there in all its glory. But in terms of its visual elements, the production elements which are around the story, it's definitely fresh and innovative and there are a lot of surprises We've taken a lot of themes in the piece such as the "Lusty Month of May" and truly have turned -instead of a flowery garden party with pastoral images of people frolicking-it is more of an evening naughty nightclub. And so taking certain elements with a contemporary twist kind of have a little fun and poke fun at the peace and the peace and and give it a fresh perspective.

Gina: And do you feel like you're taking any risks? I mean because it is- how old is this piece?

Shane: Sixty seven years old. So yes there are, we are taking some risks with the piece. Mordred is the antagonist in the piece who makes his appearance in the second act, who is King Arthur's illegitimate son who comes back and is completely...there is reference on how annoying and how obnoxious and how larger than life he is, and people just can't--There's a whole line of "this is the first time in months we have not had dinner with him"-and they're all so relieved. And so Mordred is truly taken over the top in terms of, very annoying, and even his lines and mannerisms in the description of the piece he appears to be very gay.

And so we've taken that to the extreme and he is very gay in the 

Eddie Waters as Mordred
Credit WHQR/gg

piece, and very annoying almost kind of, Jack from "Will and Grace" but to the extreme. And so there there are some things, elements and themes, that we've taken and stretch them. Not opposite of the direction of the piece, but I believe with the direction of the piece. We're definitely having fun with with what Lerner and Loewe have given us.

Gina: I think it's hard not to do something a bit uber-self-conscious with a piece like this that is so ingrained in our culture. We can't look at this piece the way that they looked at it sixty-seven years ago.

 

Shane: Absolutely. In terms of the way it's written, it's a montage of solos, almost almost 85 percent of it. And originally there were even more songs and more solos in it. Audiences were very different in terms of what they expect visually and what they expect at the theater, and we tried to update that experience within the piece and in a lot of the solo works, we now have ensemble added to them and add more production elements and shadow puppetry and actual puppetry onstage. So there's there are a lot of visual elements and a lot of fun that we have. But the central theme of the piece I'd say is even more relevant to today's world than when it was written in terms of American disillusionment in the 60s and with the assassination, beginning with the assassination of President Kennedy and how the world was changing very quickly at that time. And fast forward 67 years. Our world is changing very quickly and seemingly unstable and what we have faith in and what we knew was right is all upside down and on its head. There is a great, again in a great time of disillusionment, and I think the piece speaks so clearly to us about the fragility of freedom and and how we must look for and protect justice and protect each other. And and that central theme I think is very relevant and very powerful.
 

King Arthur enclosed in an invisible wall
Credit WHQR/gg

Gina: This whole story of Camelot has lasted, you know, more than sixty seven years. How old is this story?

Shane: Well this musical is 67 years old and the story is much older now. But before the book was the legend. So I mean no one knows. It's one of these myths and legends that have been passed down orally and then written down and so, you know there might be truth to these characters, we don't know if they existed or not in real life. But you as people explore various myths throughout history, they do find hints of truth.

 

Gina: And even if the characters, the players, aren't true we definitely feel the truth in the humanity.  

 

Shane: Yes. Yes absolutely, and it is a very human story. And you know all the characters are caricatures of these larger than life, almost cartoonish figures. Guinevere, Arthur, Mordred, Morgan Le Fay, Lancelot, they're all larger than life and they all represent something larger than the people themselves in our world and that's where the storytelling becomes so powerful and that's you know where we've tried to take the story that is being told and expand it and stretch it and have some fun with it in terms of bringing relevancy and freshness and a little grittiness to the piece.

Gina: And is this a comedy or a tragedy?

 

Shane: Oh goodness. It's definitely a comedy and it is definitely a 

Morgan Le Fay (Jamie Schraff) and Mordred (Eddie Waters)
Credit WHQR/gg

tragedy. That's a very good question. It's definitely a mix, you get both throughout. At the very end it is quite tragic, but you laugh all the way down the road to get to that tragedy. But at the very end it's devastating tragedy, but the audience is left with that glimmer of hope. And Arthur and his generation have failed. He knows that, most of Camelot is dead and he's going to battle knowing that he's not going to survive. But then there's this one child, there's one little boy who is stowed away with the soldiers and Arthur discovers him and and he's telling the boy, why are you here? And the boy says, well I've heard the story of the knights. And Arthur says, what did you hear? And he starts exclaiming all of the principles so close to Arthur: might for right and right for right and justice, and Arthur becomes devastatingly moved at that point. Wow. This young boy,who has never met a knight until this point, knows the story of the knights and he has stowed away and he's ready to die for these principles. So Arthur takes this boy and says, run, run and hide. And you know, he knows he's going to die, he knows that civilization is going to disappear.
 

Some of the musicians in the orchestra pit
Credit WHQR/gg

But this prayer is left with this little boy that, OK he he has it inside of him and he will be able to tell the story once we're all gone. And maybe his generation will be able to bring about justice and freedom. And so it's really a beautiful and hopeful story in the midst of all of the tragedy.
 

King Arthur (Sam Robison) and Queen Guinevere (Heather Setzler) wonder what simple folk do
Credit WHQR/gg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Rickert plays Lancelot du Lac
Credit WHQR/gg

Throwback: Tony Rivenbark playing Mordred in 1974
Credit Tony Rivenbark