Monday, 8 October 2018

REVIEW: Camelot at the London Palladium

There is a touch of nostalgia about going to the London Palladium to see a classic Lerner and Loewe musical staged in concert format which sets the right tone for the evening before the band strikes up. It is a perfect setting and the large London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO) of 32 musicians brought out of the pit to fill the huge stage make this a glorious celebration of the 100th anniversary of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner's birth and of the wonderful score of Frederick Loewe. It is quite a celebration as the sound is rich and beautiful to listen to and we hear every word of the romantic and chivalrous songs.

Of course the sixties musical based on a book about the Arthurian legend called "The once and future king" can be accused of its dated misogynistic attitude to women in a male dominated society where the women are beautiful temptresses distracting the men from their noble aim. But equally it presents an inspirational view of living your life to fulfil noble goals and working together to create a safer society where "might is used for right". It's final scenes when King Arthur knights a young Tom and orders him to keep the dream alive and hand down the inspiring story to future generations remains emotional and uplifting. 

The staging is very effective with six music stands across the front of the stage used cleverly by the nine principal singers to present the story without period costumes or props. The British knights are in formal Dinner Jackets and bow ties , the women in diaphanous gowns , Lancelot in open necked dinner jacket and Arthur in a simple black tie reflecting their characters and a reworked script that makes the most of the humour in the show. However the focus remains throughout on the music.

David Thaxton is excellent as Arthur. His energetic youthfulness and rich voice is delightful to listen to and we see his torment and confusion as he seeks guidance from Merlin and struggles to keep his chivalrous round table alive . Having seen Richard Harris's performance in the 1982 London revival I wondered whether Thaxton could eclipse the memory of the charismatic actor who made the part his own and to my surprise and pleasure he does. As a trained and experienced West End singer he puts the memorable songs across to perfection. "I wonder what the king is doing tonight", "Camelot", "How to handle a woman", and " What do simple folk do" are classic musicals theatre that you hum on the way in and sing on the way out of the theatre.

Savannah Stevenson is a fine match for him as Guenevere, called Jenny for most if the show, and has the romantic songs of "Before I gaze at you again" and "I loved you once in silence " which are beautifully delivered. Opposite her is the deep powerful effortlessly rich voice of Charles Rice as Lancelot, the knight without humility who stops the show with his rendition of "if ever I would leave you ". 

Clive Carter delivers the non singing parts of Merlin, Arthur's muse, and Pellinore, the loyal old knight with great aplomb and humour. He is wonderful revelling in the roles and securing rounds of applause after each of his scenes! It is all played with his tongue firmly in his cheek, especially when he comes on to the fore stage of the Palladium and says "a few knights have stood here, and a few queens too". 

There is strong support from the rest of the cast especially when the LMTO chorus come down stage to deliver the story turning point in "The Jousts" and the rousing "Fie for Goodness".

Conductor and LMTO founder Freddie Tapner remains centre stage throughout in a white spotlight but allows the singers to take the applause. However he demonstrates his concept of concert version of musicals works with the warm reception for this one off production which wets the appetite for a full revival.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls row N | Price of ticket: £50
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