The trend towards pared down productions that somehow supposedly enhance the audience’s insight into the show continues; this time with a new production of Camelot by the Pasadena Playhouse. From Playbill:
“David Lee…has a fresh and exciting take on the material that will give the show new vitality and a much stronger dramatic focus,” stated Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps. “I am very pleased that we will be collaborating on this timeless musical, which could not be more timely than at this very moment in our country’s history.”
Lee explained in production notes, “In the previous incarnations of Camelot there has always been an emphasis on pageantry, big sets, stunning costumes with lots of armor and ladies in pointy hats, a large chorus of singers and dancers, funny mythical characters and even a dog; much of this to stunning effect. But even though the story has large philosophical resonance, it really is a rather small tale about the relationship among three human beings – Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot. A couple of years ago, just for fun, I went through the script and eliminated everything that did not contribute directly to telling their story. What I was left with was the same beautifully written tale, but one that now seemed more direct, clearer and more emotionally accessible. Plus it was shortened enough that I could afford to add back music that is often cut.”
At least Camelot is a somewhat flawed musical to begin with, so the adaptation is perhaps more justifiable. I’d be interested to see what is cut and what is restored. I’d also very interested to see how it will be designed. It’s ironic: a minimalist production would seem to take the emphasis off of the design elements, but the more minimalist productions you see, the more you realise how much more difficult it is to make the production compelling visually; thus, the role of the designer takes on, perhaps, even more importance than it did before.
Let’s hope that David Lee has learned from the mistakes of some recent productions that have embraced this trend, to varying degrees: the current minimalist revival of A Little Night Music, which misses the fuller orchestrations of the original and features a set that perhaps doesn’t serve the show as well as it should; Signature’s recent Show Boat, which thought it was a big deal because it didn’t have a boat, but which ultimately looked ugly and actually didn’t reveal any depths of the show that had hitherto evaded the theatrically literate; and the currently running revival of Ragtime, which substitutes the original production’s opulence for an approach that supposedly made for a more emotionally honest experience despite its still considerable size, making use of a large, single set that doesn’t quite work all the way through and creates some awkward staging moments that Marcia Milgrom Dodge (whose repetitive, lacklustre choreography can’t hold a candle to the work done on the original production by Graciela Daniele) can’t seem to solve and a cast that doesn’t even come close to banishing the memory of the uniformly superior original Broadway company.
So, Mr Lee, I hope you’ve got those notes: get a good orchestra with great orchestrations, a clever designer and an excellent cast. Otherwise you might find your audiences yearning for “one brief shining moment” from some Camelot of the past instead of being transported to the kingdom you’ve envisioned for your new “revisal” of this classic show.