When the Director of Development for the Footlight Players took the stage of the Dock Street Theatre on the opening night of Camelot, she said all the standard opening nights notes. Cell phones off, please. Thanks to the Director, thanks to the production team, thanks to all their donors. But then she said something different. The actors, she said, were volunteers. The actors all had day jobs.

Fair enough, I thought. I’ve seen plenty shows with non-professional casts and crews, and I’ve not yet been disappointed. I figured she was just reminding us of the sacrifice required to create a huge musical production like Camelot. I smiled, settled into my seat, and prepared to enjoy the ride.

At over three hours running time, it was a long ride. And for a show that long, it’s hard not to stumble, and stumble Camelot did.
But first let’s look at the good stuff.

The idea behind the production was lovely. As director Mary Cimino, a seasoned veteran of the Charleston stage, wrote in her Director’s Notes, Camelot isn’t located in any particular location. Thus, it can be anywhere. Even here, in Charleston.

Her inspiration was evident in the set design. The forest trees in the opening scene were live oaks, sprinkled with Spanish moss, creating a haunting backdrop for the first meeting of King Arthur and Lady Guenevere.  Arthur’s castle featured wrought iron windows and wall-hangings reminiscent of local churches. The sets were beautiful, providing a touch of our own city to Camelot.

Costumes, too, were brilliant. Costume designer Tippy Stern Brickman deserves kudos for the ladies’ flowing gowns and the men’s stunning brocade tunics. I found myself envying the men’s boots and Guenevere’s shimmering dresses.

The story is the classic tale of the love triangle between the beleaguered King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and Queen Guenevere. But it’s also the story of a troubled leader trying to find his footing and legacy, and thus is timeless. Arthur muses, at one point, “We have battles for no reason … I win every battle and accomplish nothing.”

Christina Leidel as Guenevere was beautiful and commanding, her singing sweet and strong. Frederic DeJaco as King Pellinore never failed to elicit laughs from the audience. Truly, though, the night belonged to one actor: Logan Murray, as the tiny Tom of Warwick, was only on stage for five minutes, but he captured the audience’s heart with his big eyes, bigger smile, and boundless enthusiasm.

But as I said, it was a long show, and it wasn’t perfect. Paul O’Brien as King Arthur was sweet, but stiff and teary, not quite the commanding leader you’d expect. Much of his singing was more speaking-with-style, and again, wasn’t what you’d expect of a king. At least not a king in a musical.

Lancelot (Jonah Klixbull) sang very well, but his character’s transition from self-important Frenchman to adored miracle worker was abrupt, bordering on unbelievable.

Some of the musical numbers were fun, but more than once, the orchestra lost the singers, or vice versa. The cacophony created was wince-inducing, but they usually found their traction quickly.

By the end of the play, I wondered again about the Director of Development’s reminder of the volunteer status of the actors and production team. Was she asking us to be kind? Considerate of their hard work, even if the results were somewhat less than stellar?

It’s possible, I suppose. A high school spent in the theater taught me long ago how hard it is to put on a big musical production. I know how hard they worked, and I admire them all for their efforts and their courage to take the stage.

At $35.00 per ticket, though, I expect a bit more from a show than what the opening night of Camelot provided. I think the talent and structure is there for this show to find its footing and really soar, but on its opening night, it never quite took wing.

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