Kira Wayland, Samatha Rabin, and Taylor Stone
(From left) Kira Wayland, Samatha Rabin, and Taylor Stone in "Camelot." Photos by Alan Brigish

Legend takes center stage

By Molly Martone - February 22, 2006

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School players gorgeously reproduced the rise and fall of the mythical realm of Camelot last weekend at the Performing Arts Center.

Based on T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," "Camelot" is a love story set in the forests and great halls of Arthurian England. Mr. White's novel comprised five books, rich with medieval lore and resonant with tragedy, but the musical "Camelot," a collaboration between Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is mainly preoccupied with the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere, and Sir Lancelot.

Julius Lowe
Sir Lancelot (Julius Lowe) pledges his devotion to the king. Matters become complicated for Sir Lancelot when he falls in love with the queen.

Arthur's Round Table remains a code word for gallantry and hope, cemented in modern consciousness by its association with the Kennedy era, when the "Camelot" soundtrack was popular bedtime music at the White House.

Historians place the Arthur legend in the fifth or sixth centuries, but the musical "Camelot" is usually set much later, probably because of the costume factor; the bodices and billowing velvets of later periods are hard to resist.

For the production, directors Kate Murray and Ashley Peters stayed loyal to the original myth, and the scenery and costumes reflected a simpler, earthier time in England's history.

Celeste Bailey and Annie Finnerty
(From left) Queen Guenevere (Celeste Bailey) with Lady Anne (Annie Finnerty).

To that end, set and lighting designer Ernest Iannaconne wisely dispensed with elaborate furnishings and instead created atmosphere with bold, broad pieces: a towering tree, a pair of thrones, a rainbow of banners above the jousting field.

Costume designers Kirkland Beck and Kathy Retmeir, with student-designers Anna Convery and Rebecca Swartwood hit the mark too, with simple lines and jewel tones that glowed on stage. Color was a powerful presence in the play. From Arthur's scarlet tights in a dark wood to the rosy gowns on the ladies of the court, each scene looked as carefully composed as a painting.

Arthur was played by Jake Estabrook, who skillfully carried his character through the charming uncertainty of a young king into the harsher self-doubt of his later years. Celeste Bailey was a lovely Guenevere, who likewise shifted from girlish innocence to stateliness without a ripple. Jonah Lipsky as Arthur's illegitimate son, Mordred, and Anna Convery as the sorceress Morgan le Fey were delicious villains, while Julius Lowe made a convincingly conflicted Lancelot. English accents were extremely good across the board, so good I immediately stopped noticing them.

Michael Gately and Marlan Sigleman
Sir Dinidan (Michael Gately) and Lady Dinidan (Marlan Sigleman) in last weekend's high school musical, "Camelot."

This show's best asset was the sheer size of its cast and crew. A large and talented orchestra led by Dan Murphy enlivened Loewe's score; the costume crew alone numbered in the dozens; and during ensemble pieces, the crowded stage was a testament to the value MVRHS places on its performing arts.

Then there was the singing. The soloists could act as well as sing and consistently did both at the same time. Katie Mayhew made a bewitching Nimue, luring Merlyn into the earth. Lady of the court Emma Tobin stole the jousting scene with her cries for blood. Group numbers were energetic and choreographer Lianna Loughman made use of the entire space, moving cast members up and down the aisles so the audience was drawn into the drama.

A few quibbles: the railing at stage right could have used some camouflage, and Merlyn could have used a beard. Also, the play was too long. Even creator Lerner called the original 1960 production "a bladder endurance contest;" a thick black marker would have gone a long way toward tightening this version. But the dancing was lively, the music was rich, and the characters well executed. This show was easy to love.