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ACLOA Stages "Camelot" at Popejoy.

By Angie Drobnic

DECEMBER 29, 1997:  Camelot is everything most musicals try to be: The plot is epic, the characters archetypes and the songs traditionally pleasing. The story is the basic Arthurian tragedy: A love triangle between King Arthur, Queen Guenevere (sic) and the Knight Lancelot du Lac eventually explodes into war. But the genius of Camelot is that the famous team of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe transformed the grandeur of this story into an intimate work that focuses on human fallibility. And the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera Association (ACLOA) uses the material to its best advantage, putting on one of their best productions in many seasons.

Perhaps it is because of Camelot's familiarity that each song--even jolly ones like "Take Me to the Fair" and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?"--takes on slightly sad, nostalgic tone. While Camelot's characters believe they live in the best of all worlds, both the audience and the composers know their paradise to be short-lived. A lot of nuance is needed to bring this out, and fortunately ACLOA's stars have an abundance of talent. Michael Finnegan as Arthur combines vulnerability and strength in his performance, and his acting skills are the strongest of the group. You actually feel his character growing wiser and more aware throughout the musical. When Camelot is in chaos and Arthur cries to Merlin to turn him into a hawk so he can escape, the effect is heartbreaking. Erskine Maytorena as Lancelot plays a character that's written to be an annoying goon and makes it his own. Maytorena's delivery of the famous show-stopper "If Ever I Should Leave You" is particularly strong, as is all his singing (his cast biography tells us that he is classically trained with extensive opera experience). But it was Laurie Daniels as Guenevere who stole my heart: her voice as pure as a church bell, Daniels shines every moment she is on stage.

The staging of the play is first rate, and the set design is charmingly inventive. One of my slight criticisms of ACLOA's production is the staging of Act I's first half, which seems a little uninspired; the stage seems empty at times, and one is not prepared for the great things that begin with the production number "The Lusty Month of May." In the second act, things really start to hum with the beautiful and shrewd design of Morgan Le Fey's Forest, the Warming Fire where the knights gather and the climatic scene in which Guenevere is to be burned at the stake.

The technical workers and the supporting actors deserve credit for what they add to this fine production. Theatergoers, however, should appreciate these details for themselves. Buy your tickets for Camelot now; the word of mouth on this ACLOA production is sure to be good.


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