Lerner and Loewe's Brilliant Musical Score Saves This `Camelot'

CAMELOT. Musical with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe. At the Gershwin Theatre through Aug. 7.

APPARENTLY those who cannot remember "Camelot" are condemned to repeat it. Richard Burton, the original King Arthur in the classic Lerner and Loewe musical, repeated his role in a large-scale revival in 1980.

Richard Harris, who starred in the film version, later replaced Burton and starred in a national tour. Now, Robert Goulet, the original Lancelot, is playing the lead in another revival, this time as King Arthur. The production has been racking up huge box-office grosses around the country and is likely to repeat that success in a limited engagement on Broadway.

The fact that "Camelot" can withstand all this reviving is a tribute not only to marquee value but also to the enduring legend of this musical and its glorious score.

Like many tours constructed around a star, the production has a jerry-built quality that makes it all too obvious that the impulses behind this "Camelot" were commercial, not artistic. But Goulet, long absent from the Broadway stage, is such an engaging and affable presence as the king that we are inclined to forgive the lackluster staging and less-than-thrilling supporting performances.

The production is directed and choreographed by Norb Joerder, whose primary stage work has been re-creating musical classics (indeed, he staged the Burton and Harris revivals). There is a lethargy to the proceedings that may be suitable for a touring show, but for Broadway a little more dynamism is needed.

Goulet, who is surprisingly assured in his first Broadway appearance in decades, doesn't manage to invest his role with the emotion or the sheer kingliness that his predecessors commanded. Even weaker are his co-stars, Patricia Kies as Guenevere and Steve Blanchard as Lancelot, who offer credible vocal performances but who simply don't have the charisma to make their pivotal characters sympathetic or interesting. "Camelot," whose story line revolves around the romantic triangle that develops among these three, can't work unless the audience can muster interest for all the participants.

Tucker McCrady postures menacingly as the viperous Mordred, but his characterization, too, never goes more than skin deep. Even worse is the outlandish hamminess of James Valentine, who plays Merlyn and Pellinore with broad comic shtick that turns both creations into caricatures. The sets are lavish for a touring production, although they suffer in comparison to the opulence that is customary on Broadway these days, and the costumes leave a lot to be desired.

WHAT saves the production, and what makes the show always worth seeing, is the glorious score, which includes such gems as "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight," "C'est Moi," "How to Handle a Woman," "If Ever I Would Leave You," "What Do the Simple Folk Do," and, of course, the title song. The chief advantage in Goulet's promotion to king is that we get to enjoy him wrapping his supple baritone voice around more of the musical numbers. But his presence notwithstanding, you won't find the magic that w as "Camelot" onstage at the Gershwin Theatre.

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