For a certain generation of musical lovers, trying to stomach the last couple decades of Broadway productions has been a tough proposition.
Leave it to Lerner and Loewe's classic and beloved "Camelot," a musical retelling of the Arthurian legend first produced in 1960, to dispel the notion that eye-roll-inducing musical theater is a recent development.
And once in a while -- for old pros and "Rent" acolytes alike -- a good, old-fashioned cheesy Broadway show is just what the doctor ordered.
And that's exactly what the latest Broadway tour of this much-revived musical has set out to create. Michael A.M. Lerner, son of the late librettist, has done so admirably, managing to subtly streamline the show and effectively transform it into a pleasant anachronism.
In the lead role, Lou Diamond Phillips is congenial enough as the quirky King Arthur, much stronger when delivering Lerner's often clever wordplay than singing the softball songs Loewe wrote for the part. Phillips, whose stint in "The King and I" some 10 years ago on Broadway was a great success, shows us his charming and comic side here, but doesn't quite manage to rise above his eclectic and variously talented predecessors.
Anything but softball was a performance from Rachel de Benedet as Guenevere, who took a fine, if slightly icy stab at "Simple Joys of Maidenhood" and "Before I Gaze at You Again," songs Julie Andrews made famous. Her comic timing was well aligned with Phillips', making for a surprisingly funnier show than even its creators likely envisioned.
The outright star of the show, as might have been expected, is Matt Bogart, who plays the alternately self-congratulatory and chivalrous Sir Lancelot and tries his best not to upstage Phillips. He does in spite of himself. Bogart's is the only genuinely strong male voice we hear, and it's a welcome one, especially on the two most famous songs from the show, "C'est Moi" and "If I Would Ever Leave You." Robert Goulet, may he rest in peace, would be proud.
Ill-conceived updates like an absurdly dressed and queeny Mordred (Shannon Stoeke) momentarily turns the show into "Camp-alot" and a ridiculously sexed-up "Lusty Month of May" a la "Rent" subtract from the show, which ought to remain happily lodged in its Kennedy-era context forevermore.
In today's context, it's questionable why such a show -- so idealistic, so evocative of a time of great hope and innocence in America -- should be revived in this era of mounting uncertainty and global conflict. It could be because we're looking for a portal back to that time when a "War on Terror" was inconceivably Orwellian and when this show must have seemed relevant.
Or it could be that Broadway producers are simply out to exploit our nostalgia. Either way, it's a welcome escape for those who lived it and a fine glimpse into that era for those who weren't so lucky.
Review: Three stars (out of four)
Opened Tuesday night and runs through Sunday in Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. For more information, call 852-5000 or visit www.sheas.org.