REVIEW: North Carolina Theatre: Boone, Whelan, and Hunsaker Make Camelot Magical Once Again
by Robert W. McDowell
Guest star singer/actress Debby Boone may be billed above the title of the current North Carolina Theatre presentation of Camelot, playing tonight through Sunday at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, but she must share the spotlight with two stellar performers: newcomer Christian Whelan, who plays the idealistic King Arthur, and NCT veteran Michael Hunsaker, who plays Arthur’s impossibly virile right-hand man, Lancelot du Lac. This heavenly trio makes beautiful music -- and forms a tragic Love Triangle -- together.
Whelan, who must be at least 6’4”, physically dwarfs the 5’4” Boone; but vocally Boone takes second place to no one. The awesome alto and eloquent phrasing that made “You Light Up My Life” a launching pad to singing stardom for Boone make her portrayal of Guenevere a performance to remember.
Debby Boone is terrific as the tragic queen torn between her enduring love for her husband and his ideals and her carnal passion for Sir Lancelot, the pious knight whose ostentatious quest to be the perfect knight and the perfect man draws groans from his fellow members of King Arthur’s fabled Round Table.
Christian Whelan gives a regal performance as Arthur, and Michael Hunsaker provides a charismatic characterization as Arthur’s best friend and betrayer, who ultimately cannot suppress his love for Guenevere. Keith Merrill adds a scene-stealing performance as Mordred, Arthur’s horrid illegitimate son and the skunk at the Camelot garden party. Indeed, Merrill is so wonderfully wicked, as he sets about undermining his father and stirring up unrest in Camelot, that he threatens to steal the show.
Local actor Lamont Wade is hilarious as the aged and irascible King Pellinore; James Zannelli, Michael Goddard, and Paul Woodson are good as Lancelot’s erstwhile rivals Sir Dinadan, Sir Lionel, and Sir Sagramore, respectively; and child actor Grégory Ellis is a revelation as little Tom of Warwick, whom King Arthur commands to run behind the lines, so that he can survive the final battle and pass the story of Camelot along to future generations.
North Carolina Theatre’s gala presentation of Camelot, the marvelous medieval Lerner and Loewe musical based on the fantasy novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White, is smartly staged and clever choreographed by director/choreographer Stephen Terrell. The show also boasts a imaginative multilayered topographical set, topped by an ingenious twisted metal “tree,” originally designed by John Farrell for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, and simply gorgeous medieval costumes from Bottari and Case.
But the NCT orchestra, conducted by NCT resident musical director McCrae Hardy, is a home-grown group that makes the musical gems in the Camelot score sparkle every bit as bright as King Arthur’s coronation jewels. And the contributions of technical director Matt Lewandowski, fight director Jeff A.R. Jones, lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, costume designer Annie Bruskiewitz, wig designer Sarah Opstad, and sound designer Jonathan Parke also help make this frisky revival of NCT’s very first production a must-see musical.
North Carolina Theatre presents Camelot. Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 13-16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 17, at 2 and 8 pm.; and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950 or http://www.nctheatre.com/showstickets.asp [inactive 1/06]. Debby Boone: http://www.debbyboone.net/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2369. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061439/. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: http://www.kingarthursknights.com/ [inactive 7/07], http://www.webexcel.ndirect.co.uk/gwarnant/arthur/arthur.htm [inactive 5/06], http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/4186/Arthur/htmlpages/kingarthur.html, http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/ [inactive 4/09], and http://www.britannia.com/history/h12.html [inactive 1/07]. The Camelot Project (Rochester University): http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/cphome.stm [inactive 12/05].
PREVIEW: North Carolina Theatre: Good Girl Debby Boone Will Play Bad Girl Guenevere in Camelot
by Robert W. McDowell
There’s an old saying that “Good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere!” But award-winning singer and actress Debby Boone, who will play the adulterous Queen Guenevere in North Carolina Theatre’s Sept. 9-18 presentation of Camelot, directed and choreographed by Stephen Terrell, is living proof that good girls can finish first.
“My role is a little against type,” quipped Debby Boone at a Sept. 1st press conference. She added, “It will be challenging, but I’ve always loved the show. I can never get through the script without crying.”
It took nine months for NCT to convince Debby Boone to headline its gala production of Camelot, says executive director/producer William Jones. He adds, “She’s incredibly nice and sweet, and will bring a lot of warmth and strength to the role of Guenevere. She’s not a bad singer either,” quips Wally Jones.
The daughter of singer and 1950s heartthrob Pat Boone and his wife, Shirley, looks at least a decade and a half younger than her 48 years. She rocketed to stardom in 1977, at age 21, when her cover of “You Light Up My Life,” the Academy Award®-winning title tune of an otherwise forgettable film, bumped The Beatles out of the number-one spot for 10 straight weeks, and earned her the 1977 GRAMMY® Award for Best New Artist. (“You Light Up My Life” later won a 1987 ASCAP Award for being one of the Most Performed Feature Film Standards on TV.)
Since 1977, Debby Boone has won two more GRAMMY Awards for “With My Song I Will Praise Him” in 1980 and “Keep the Flame Burning” (a duet with Phil Driscoll) in 1984 and received seven GRAMMY nominations. She made her Broadway debut as the star of the 1982 production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She later was a replacement for bad girl Betty Rizzo in the 1994 Broadway revival of Grease.
Boone toured nationally in Meet Me in St. Louis, and she played Maria in Lincoln Center’s 30th anniversary production of The Sound of Music and governess Anna Leonowens in the 50th anniversary staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.
NCT cast Debby Boone against type as Guenevere, the legendary queen with feet of clay whose impetuous extramarital romance with Lancelot Du Lac (NCT veteran Michael Hunsaker) sowed the seeds of destruction for King Arthur (Christian Whelan of ABC’s television soap opera “All My Children”) and his Round Table and for the title city of this 1960 Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics and book based on the 1958 novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White) and Frederick Loewe (music). Indeed, many pundits described the administration of Democratic President John F. Kennedy as a modern-day Camelot, where political idealism ruled, however briefly.
Camelot made its Broadway debut at the Majestic Theatre on Dec. 3, 1960 a month after Kennedy’s upset election victory over election over Republican Vice President Richard M. Nixon and a month and a half before his inauguration. The show ran for 873 performances, and closed on Jan. 5, 1963. Moss Hart directed a stellar cast that included Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Queen Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot. Camelot, which added “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “Camelot” to the show-tune repertoire, received six 1961 Tony Award nominations, and won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical (Burton) and three technical awards.
The scandal-plagued 1967 motion-picture version of Camelot, directed by Joshua Logan, starred Richard Harris as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. (The on-set romance between Redgrave and Nero broke up Redgrave’s five-year marriage to director and playwright Tony Richardson.) Nominated for five 1967 Academy Awards but none in the acting or directing categories the film won three Oscars in technical categories.
Ironically, Camelot was the North Carolina Theatre’s very first full-scale Broadway musical, way back in 1984, when Wally Jones’ mother, NCT founder De Ann S. Jones, was producer. The stars were Terrence Mann as Arthur and Sharon Lawrence as Guenevere. Mann is a two time Tony nominee, for his performance as the implacable Inspector Javert in Les Misérables (1987) and the bewitched Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1994); and Lawrence is best known for playing assistant district attorney Sylvia Costas Sipowicz on “NYPD Blue” a bravura performance that earned her to three Emmy Award nominations.
In addition to producer Wally Jones and director/choreographer Stephen Terrell, who previously staged The Sound of Music (2003), Guys and Dolls, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas for NCT, the production team for the 2005 edition of Camelot includes NCT musical director/conductor extraordinaire McCrae Hardy, technical director Matt Lewandowski, fight director Jeff A.R. Jones, lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, costume designer Annie Bruskiewitz, wig designer Sarah Opstad, and sound designer Jonathan Parke. The sets are from the Pittsburgh, PA Civic Light Opera; and the costumes are from Michael Vattari in New York City.
“We have a nine-day rehearsal period to put this show up,” noted Debby Boone. “The director is wonderful and the musical director, McCrae Hardy, is fabulous.”
Debby Boone is married to Gabriel Ferrer, the son of the late actor Jose Ferrer and the late singer Rosemary Clooney and a cousin of George Clooney of “ER” and motion-picture fame. The Ferrers, who have four children and live in Sherman Oaks, CA, near Los Angeles, have collaborated on six children’s books despite frequent separations while Boone pursues her acting and singing career.
In an interview after her Sept. 1st press conference, Debby Boone said Sept. 1st was her 26th wedding anniversary. Boone says she lives just 15 minutes away from her parents, but did not know until she arrived in Raleigh that her father would appear in concert tonight in at Johnston Community College in Smithfield as part of his “Farewell Tour.”
Boone said her good-girl image was one reason that she never previously aspired to play bad girl Guenevere; but there is another.
“One of the reasons that I’ve never really looked at playing Guenevere is because the role called for a soprano voice,” Boone admits, “and I’ve always considered myself an alto.” Now she says, it is not unusual for musical arrangers to change keys accommodate a star.
Boone points out soprano Julie Andrews, who played Maria in the film version of The Sound of Music, was one of the first to benefit from such a change, because the role was written for alto Mary Martin.
Debby Boone says, “I love doing musicals. Every time is like being back in high school, because the camaraderie is just delightful.” She said her favorite musical-theater role to date is “Mrs. Anna” in The King and I.
Debby Boone’s latest project is the CD “Reflections of Rosemary,” a hauntingly beautiful and deeply personal tribute to her mother-in-law. In singing standards from the American Songbook, which range from “Blue Skies” to “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Boone phrases each lyric exquisitely, and delivers each line with a remarkable depth of feeling. She seemingly creates a new and different “character” to express the emotions of each song.
“Interpreting each song has always been my focus,” said Debby Boone. She added, “My songs in Camelot [“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” “Before I Gaze at You Again,” etc.] are very challenging vocally.”
Reflecting on the shedding of her good-girl image to play one of the most notorious bad girls of the modern musical theater, Boone mused, “It’s somehow shocking for someone with that image to play a flawed human being. Guenevere starts out very young and naïve and romanticizes some very serious things [such as] knights fighting for her and shedding blood and feuding over her. But, by the end of the show, the things that she romanticized actually come true.”
Boone says Guenevere finds herself doing things, such as betraying her marriage vows and causing a fatal schism among the knights of the Round Table, that she never thought she was capable of doing. Guenevere and Arthur meet and marry as teenagers, she says, and think that they will live happily ever afterward. Then Lancelot, who pompously prides himself on being the perfect man and the perfect knight, comes to Camelot. He becomes Arthur’s strong right hand and Guenevere’s friend and confidant and, in a moment of weakness, her lover.
“Guenevere finds herself caught in an agonizing situation,” said Debby Boone. “But that’s what makes you mature. In the struggle of life, you don’t mature until you start working your way through the problems and correcting the mistakes.”
Boone added, “Arthur’s speech at the end of Act I is one of the most beautiful speeches in musical theater. [When he finds out that Guenevere and Lancelot have betrayed him], he wants to rise above vengeance.” That, indeed, would be a noble sentiment in today’s world in which far too many people take “an eye for an eye” literally.
North Carolina Theatre presents Camelot. Saturday opening night, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 13-16, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 17, at 2 and 8 pm.; and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $25-$65. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950 or http://www.nctheatre.com/showstickets.asp [inactive 1/06]. Debby Boone: http://www.debbyboone.net/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2369. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061439/. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table: http://www.kingarthursknights.com/ [inactive 7/07], http://www.webexcel.ndirect.co.uk/gwarnant/arthur/arthur.htm [inactive 5/06], http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/4186/Arthur/htmlpages/kingarthur.html, http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/ [inactive 6/08], and http://www.britannia.com/history/h12.html [inactive 1/07]. The Camelot Project (Rochester University): http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/cphome.stm [inactive 12/05].