Starring Robert Goulet
Wolf Trap Park, Vienna, Virginia
For one brief, shining moment, the open-air stage at Wolf Trap Park was transformed by Robert Goulet and his court into "Camelot."
And it was indeed a sumptuous performance. Sets, props, costumes, orchestra, singing, acting—all of it was generally
first-rate. Some of the exceptions I noticed are included below.
One set that was used a few times, presumably to depict an inner courtyard of the castle, at one point contained a throne.
The reason, of course, was so that Mordred (played by Robert Goulet's son Michael) could covet it during his first scene,
but the chair's presence seemed at odds with the rest of the set.
Speaking of Mordred, they dressed him in a quasi-Scottish costume—which I thought was a good idea, considering he's
supposed to have been living in the Orkneys—and he tried to speak with a burr. Unfortunately, I thought Michael could've
used a few more lessons with a dialect coach. His burr kept coming unstuck. To his credit, he probably didn't have the
easiest time to begin with, since his lines weren't even written for a Scotsman, let alone an Orcadian. But he did try.
They cut Mordred's scene with Morgan Le Fay, which always struck me as rather silly anyway—and with Merlyn and Pellinore
the show didn't need another over-the-top character, so this was no great loss to the overall production in my opinion.
The costumes, as I mentioned before, were nothing short of lavish, especially Guinevere's gowns. The only thing that bugged me was
that the costumer didn't stick with a single heraldic scheme; even Lancelot's colors changed for his knighthood ceremony. Fie!
And they made Arthur wear a cloak (prior to Lancelot's arrival at court) that had lions and fleur-de-lis on it. I had no
problem with the lions, but they'd have been better off trading the fleur-de-lis for something less obviously French, like crowns.
There are two musical numbers which, to be included in any production, require payment of extra royalties, to whit:
"Then You May Take Me to the Fair" and "Fie on Goodness." If any company decides to spring for an extra number, it's usually
the former. (To perform both would put the show that much closer to three hours' running time.) In all my many times of playing
in and watching "Camelot," amateur and professional productions alike, this is the first time I was treated to a production of
"Fie on Goodness." I was a tad disappointed that they cut out the bridge-lyrics like, "When I think of the rollicking pleasures
that earlier filled my life...like the time I beheaded a man who was beating his naked wife..." (etc.) But it was still fun
to see Mordred stirring up the other knights. The other musical number that was shortened by two whole verses was
"The Jousts": they rewrote the opening then cut to the verse that describes Sir Lionel being killed. I forgave that directorial
decision, however, when I saw the lovely strobe-lighting effects they employed during Lancelot's ensuing prayer, emphasizing
the miracle of Lionel's resurrection.
"The Madrigal," which Lancelot is supposed to sing to Guinevere, was turned into a mini-ensemble production, complete with
someone pretending to play a lyre, and another man and woman dancing, and Lancelot and Guinevere looking on from opposite
sides of the stage. Not that Lancelot (Daniel Narducci) couldn't sing—he's an operatic baritone, among other things,
and after a stunning "If Ever I Would Leave You," I told my husband (who can't carry a tune in a proverbial basket) that
Daniel could serenade me anytime! Patricia Kies as Guinevere turned in a solid performance, particularly during the bedchamber
scene when she rather forcefully reminded Lancelot that her torment was just as great as his.
Due to a comedy of scheduling errors, my husband and I arrived at about two minutes before curtain, so I didn't get a chance to
read the program notes until intermission. I had thought that this particular Pellinore (James Valentine) seemed vaguely
familiar—and not simply because I realized he had played Merlyn in the earlier scenes. So I checked his bio.
In fact I had seen this actor some fourteen years earlier, during the Richard Harris "Camelot" tour—where he also played
the dual role. And what a delicious treat he was, especially as Pellinore! At one point, during an otherwise somber scene while
discussing Mordred, he had the audience—and Robert Goulet—practically rolling on the floor. Pellinore's line was,
"You mean a chap has to be dead before he can defend himself?" Valentine supplemented it with some body language and facial
expressions that cracked everyone up completely. Where the script called for a pause before Arthur was supposed to answer,
in actuality it was more like several minutes, and I was close enough to the stage to see how much Goulet was struggling to
maintain composure. It was made all the worse by the fact that his next line was "I don't have an answer for that," earning
another round of laughter (when it really shouldn't have, but it was fun all the same). They also gave Pellinore and Arthur
a few extra lines—whether revived from the original stage script or lifted from the movie version, I don't know—
regarding Arthur's example of how civil law was supposed to work (Pellinore's hypothetical burning of a barn owned by a
farmer named William).
And now we come to the King, the inestimable Robert Goulet himself. At times, especially during Act I, he seemed a bit tired,
which was odd considering I attended the third performance of a 6-day run. At other times I felt he rushed certain lines that
in my opinion shouldn't have been rushed, but I admit that opinion may be colored by the memory of Harris' stunning stage
performance I witnessed in 1984. Goulet's speaking voice was indeed powerful when he wanted it to be, especially
during the monologue at the close of Act I. However, just as with Sean Connery in "First Knight," I had trouble forgetting
the actor and concentrating on the character. I'm not sure how any superstar actor or actress can overcome this problem.
But when Goulet sang, oh did it ever make me wish I had seen him 37 years ago as Lancelot! Unfortunately, I'd have been
far too young then to appreciate it. This year—despite the little nit-picky things I noticed—I did appreciate
his performance very much.
Rest in peace, Mr. Goulet. You are missed.
Text copyright © 1998-2013 by Kim D Headlee
Home | Novels | Nonfiction | Arthuriana | Writing | Bio