Theatre Review: A Most Congenial Production of Camelot at Act II

I have seen several productions of large musicals successfully pared down for a smaller stage, but Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot currently playing at Act II Playhouse in Ambler is by far the most impressive.  Director Matt Pfeiffer has taken 10 skilled and versatile actors, a cleverly designed set by Adam Riggar, Dann Dunn’s creative choreography, and Janus Stefanowicz’s costumes and has given the audience the true essence of the story.

Ironically when the pageantry and excess is absent, the director really gets to concentrate on the substance, the characters and the acting.  Director Pfeiffer gets some incredibly nuanced performances from his cast.  Having seen what his cast has done, I will never dismiss Camelot as a superficial entertainment.

Jeffrey Coon stars as King Arthur in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, on stage at Act II Playhouse in Ambler until June 24. Photo by Bill D’Agostino.

Camelot in any production starts with King Arthur.  Act II was indeed fortunate to have the services of one of the area’s premiere actors.  Jeff Coon has an incredible voice, but more importantly he possesses a layered command of emotions.  He captures the lack of certainty the haunts Arthur throughout.  Coon embodies the uncertainty and faith that is necessary for a leader to lead his kingdom to a life of peace and morality.

As Guenevere, Eileen Cella is outstanding.  Like Coon we are convinced of her humanity and acceptance of a situation that she did not seek.  She sets the tone in “St. Genevieve” where she gives us insight into the nervousness that sits behind the bravado. She is equally engaging in demonstrating the tortured love for Lancelot. The third member of this tragic triangle is Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton as Lancelot.  A clearly skilled singer, he handles the transition from aloof narcissist to ensnared romantic lover with equal skill.

Joey Abramowicz, Patrick Romano, Rajeer Alford, Eileen Cella, Luke Bradt, and Jordan Dobson sing “The Lusty Month of May” in Camelot, on stage at Act II Playhouse until June 24. Photo by Bill D’Agostino.

The rest of the cast embrace many, many characters and do a wonderful job delineating each one appropriately.  Of special note are Scott Langdon as both Merlin and Pellinore as well as Luke Bradt as a particularly menacing Mordred.  He helps to emphasize how evil cannot abide peace and that not playing by the rules has much more ammunition in the struggle between good and evil.  The other ensemble members include Iman Aaliyah, Joey Abramowicz, Rajeer Alford, Jordan Dobson and Patrick Romano.  Each has multiple moments where he or she shines.

King Arthur (Jeffrey Coon) and Queen Guenevere (Eileen Cella) in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, on stage at Act II Playhouse in Ambler until June 24. Photo by Bill D’Agostino.

As indicated earlier, the set, the costumes, and the lighting (Lily Fossner) are attractive and functional to allow for quick transitions and costume changes.  One of the most important elements in this production is the music.  Dan Matarazzo elicits a wonderful sound from his gifted actors as well as providing a full sound by his playing of a lone piano.  He takes full advantage of the intimate space and creates a bigger than expected sound in support of his cast. Both Dann Dunn’s choreography and Ian Rose’s fight choreography make the space and the cast seem bigger.  They capture the pageantry more as a snapshot than a mural.  It is used very effectively in Matt Pfeiffer’s vision.

Camelot runs until June 17th, but it is selling out quickly.  It is a wonderful experience and deserves large, appreciative audiences.  For tickets call 215-654-0200 or go online at http://www.act2.org.

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