On the weekend of Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee, a group gathered in Evanston to commune once again with the abiding musical myth of a different British royal court. The opening night audience at Cahn Auditorium on Saturday for this Light Opera Works production included Gov. Pat Quinn, who, following the derailing of pension reform last week, presumably was wishing that Springfield were Camelot and that the denizens of the Illinois Statehouse had a bit more in common with the Knights of the Round Table.
There's no Excalibur here on the prairie. But as fans of musical theater well know, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "Camelot" is one of the great musicals of the 20th century. There's nary a dud in the score, given "If Ever I Would Leave You," "I Loved You Once in Silence," and, of course, the famous title number. But it's also a long and challenging piece, especially in Act 2, when all the famously witty banter between Arthur and Guenevere (played here by Nick Sandys and Jennie Sophia) gives way to the dastardly doings (and undoings) of young Mordred (Patrick Tierney), the product of Arthur's prior bewitchment by Mordred's sorceress mother Morgan Le Fay (Patrice Egleston). As Guenevere points out, in one of Lerner's many witty, gently anachronistic lines, Arthur is "not the first king" to have one of those prior indiscretions running about the court. But this one makes trouble.
Rudy Hogenmiller's traditionally staged production, replete with the typical big Light Opera Works orchestra under the regular baton of Roger L. Bingaman, generally is stronger before Mordred shows up, which is not so much a reflection on Tierney, who is fine, but on the way this production struggles to credibly and cogently track the fast-moving events within the Act 2 crisis that afflicts both a marriage and, as a consequence, an entire country. That progression of scenes — containing a huge swath of the story — is fiendishly hard to stage, and it all goes a bit off the rails during the "Guenevere" sequence, and the show loses much of its dramatic pulse. A simpler approach, perhaps, might have paid dividends.
Still, there's plenty to enjoy elsewhere in the warm-centered, familiar and generally well-sung evening, including quite a bravura performance from the very promising William Travis Taylor, who commits full throttle to Lancelot, that irony-free lover of the king's wife, with the big personality and the voice to match. Hogenmiller generally does decent work with his principals, including Skip Lundby, who makes a charming Pellinore, and the ensemble moves around elegantly through the choreography of Todd Rhoades.
Sophia is a perfectly charming Guenevere and a delightful singer, although you'd like to see her more emotionally involved with her two men. And although Sandys is very much an actor who sings rather than a legitimate vocalist ("How to Handle a Woman" is a real stretch for him), his Arthur is both vulnerable and likable. Sandys conveys the most crucial themes of this show: The difficulty of putting your own life aside in service of an ideal, the pain of betrayal and the dangers of disillusionment and regret, all while showing the rewards of striving to do the right thing. Maybe Arthur could be persuaded to take on those pensions.
When: Through Sunday
Where: Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston
Running time: 3 hours
Tickets: $32-$92 at 847-920-5360