Lou Diamond Phillips jewel in crown of "Camelot"
My wife has never quite forgiven me for not taking her to see Richard Harris in "Camelot" in 1987, the first summer we were dating.
After seeing Lou Diamond Phillips and Company in the Broadway Across America production of the Lerner and Lowe musical at the Palace Theatre, running through Feb. 10, I may have finally achieved absolution.
I had been looking forward to seeing Michael York in the role of King Arthur when the tour dates were announced, and I felt ambivalent about Phillips as a substitute.
Like most people, my strongest images of the actor are from his portrayal of Ritchie Valens in "La Bamba," and as a sullen high school student in "Stand and Deliver."
They were both memorable performances, but it seemed a leap to picture him as a British monarch.
Not to worry. He appears to have found a niche essaying classic Broadway roles, having earned a Tony nomination for his performance in a revival of "The King and I."
In "Camelot" he fully embodies the character of Arthur, from the reluctant young man to the older ruler torn between protecting his precious Round Table and shielding wife Guenevere and Sir Lancelot from the Machiavellian machinations of his bastard son, Mordred.
And he can sing, in a part that has been played by such non-singers as Richard Burton, the original Arthur, and Harris, who made this his signature role after appearing in the film version.
More importantly, Phillips gives emotional weight to Arthur's idealism, his disillusionment and his redemption. The final scene, in which the king charges a boy to run from the battle so he can carry on the credo of Camelot, is truly moving.
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Rachel de Benedet is both tender and strong in the role of Guenevere, and has a wide vocal range.
Matt Bogart brings a powerful voice to such well-known songs as "If Ever I Would Leave You" and sharp comic timing to "C'est Moi."
And he is the only Lancelot I can recall who speaks with a French accent (Incidentally, I have always wanted to see a production that would portray Lancelot as the disfigured "Ill-Made Knight" of T.H. White's "The Once and Future King." In the book, the deformity drives his need for perfection, and makes the queen's love for him more poignant).
Time Winters is particularly delightful in the dual roles of Merlyn (who quickly exits) and King Pellinore, who stumbles upon the castle while questing after his ancestral beast.
Arthur's quixotic quest for peace and justice has a powerful resonance in this production, thanks to the maturity of Phillips' performance.
It takes a lot to make one to forget Richard Harris, if only for one night.
Excalibur may have been passed on to a new generation.
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