Like a child waiting for his favorite bedtime story, the world never tires of a good legend.
The best are based in uncomplicated fiction rather than fact: fairy tales that concoct a world far more romantic than reality could ever produce. By far the most enduring of these legends is that of King Arthur and his Camelot, a fantastical utopia reinvented through the centuries in literature, music, painting and the popular imagination.
A tried and true version of the Arthurian legend comes to Shea's Performing Arts Center Tuesday in the classic musical "Camelot," starring Lou Diamond Phillips as King Arthur. The original production, written by the songwriting team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Loewe and starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, has been resurrected dozens of times since its debut in 1960. That includes two Broadway revivals and this national tour, which producers are hoping will result in a third.
Phillips, whose last role on Broadway was a successful stint starring in a 1996 revival of "The King and I," returns to the stage to follow in the auspicious footsteps of Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Goulet and Michael York, who stepped off the current tour in September.
For those who see a transition from the older and more genuinely English York to the younger Phillips as somewhat jarring, Phillips notes that Burton was only 33 when he took on the role on Broadway. And Phillips is no stranger to playing royalty, as his role as the King of Siam in "The King and I" brought him plenty of accolades.
"Arthur still needs to be a very vital, very sexual, very active young guy," Phillips said. "You couldn't really compare me and Michael York as actors to each other. It's a different performance altogether."
The show, traditionally criticized for being confused in its intent and too long, has received a judicious trimming from the late Lerner's son Michael, who has shuffled some songs around and, Phillips said, "cut away some of the flab."
Phillips spoke to The News from Los Angeles shortly after joining the tour.
>Between the close of "The King and I" [in 1996] and now, where was your artistic trajectory going in that period?
It's interesting because I think a lot of people think that an actor is in total control of his career, you know, and that we get to pick and choose what we do all the time. There's a handful of guys in Hollywood who have that kind of carte blanche and that kind of control over what they do. The rest of us, we're just looking for gigs and taking the best we can get.
I've been fortunate because there's been a lot of roles that I've enjoyed. I had a nice independent film called "El Cortez" that played the AFI Film Festival and opened the Harlem Film Festival in New York and some nice appearances on "Numb3rs" and "Psych" and ["Law & Order: SVU." I'm fortunate because I get asked to the dance, but you know, it's not like I'm turning down Tom Cruise's roles.
>When was the first time you saw "Camelot," and what's different about it this time around?
I remember seeing it as a kid. I think I saw the original film back in 1968 or whatever it was, you know, with Richard Harris. And I have fond memories, but I hadn't seen it in a long, long time. Michael Lerner, Alan Lerner's son, has come in and streamlined it a bit and I think even given it a cinematic feel. He cut away some of the flab, just based on his father's notes . . . I think he had a real insight into how to make it more effective emotionally and to really get the story across.
Arthur wants an end to bloodshed, he wants an end to war, he wants a better world for his people. And he ruminates on this a lot and he agonizes over it, because he feels that will make him the best king he can be. And when he can't achieve that, it's really heartbreaking for him. Not to mention the fact that his best friend and his wife are carrying on.
I just did an episode of [the USA comedy series] "Psych," earlier this year and in the episode following me was Tim Curry and so we got to overlap a little bit and I had just said yes to "Camelot," and I said, "Do you have any advice on how to play Arthur?" And he said, "Well, yours is a little different than mine, sir. Just have fun." And that's most definitely what I'm doing.
>Is Broadway as much of a madhouse as Hollywood?
You know, there's something really comforting about being in a play. You really become a family with the people you're working with, because you're doing it for such a long time. People on film sets get tight as well, but I've never seen a more supportive community than when I was on Broadway.
It really is this gypsy kind of circus performer mentality where everybody's in it together and you don't feel the hierarchy as much. Even the producers in theater are a little more down and dirty and gritty, and in Hollywood you've got the studios and the suits and the producers and your $20 million stars and your extras.
But at the same time I'm not a theater snob. I love making movies, I love making television. I love being employed.
A touring revival of the classic musical at Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.Runs Tuesday to next Sunday.
Tickets are $24.50 to $57.50. For information call 852-5000 or visit www.sheas.org.