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LA Theater Review


Director David Lee has acquired a reputation for reinvigorating vintage musicals, including "Can-Can" and "Applause." The talented showman outdoes himself with this exhilarating new take on Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1960 classic. Scaling a lavish musical epic down to a bare-bones staging with a cast of eight was a risky move, but it pays off beautifully here. Emphasizing the show's tragic love triangle and the glorious Lerner-Loewe score, Lee and a terrific cast give us a gripping musical drama with timeless resonance.

Based on T.H. White's book "The Once and Future King," which charts the legend of the rise and fall of King Arthur's utopian empire, Lerner's libretto is widely considered long and unwieldy. Lee has done a remarkable job of pruning the text down to a leaner, more involving version. Cast members add set decorations and briefly describe scene transitions. The youthful lead players bring vivacity and charm to plum roles originally created by Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet. Shannon Stoeke expertly balances humor and heartbreak as the commanding yet secretly insecure monarch, Arthur. Stoeke comes across as a doomed protagonist in a classic mode seasoned with contemporary sensibility. As mischievous Queen Guenevere, Shannon Warne shines, boasting a lilting soprano voice. She creates a captivating characterization, making it completely understandable why knights would go to war for her. As Lancelot, the third component in the calamitous love triangle, Doug Carpenter belts out his gorgeous ballads ("If Ever I Would Leave You," "I Loved You Once in Silence") with grace and consummate skill. He earns our empathy during his character's journey from insufferable egotist to fallen hero.

Supporting performances are exemplary. Will Bradley is deliciously despicable as Mordred, Arthur's conniving bastard son. Zachary Ford, Richard R. Segall, and Andrew Ross Wynn are initially quite funny and ultimately menacing as the three knights. They're especially amusing in a re-imagined version of Guenevere's flirtatious number, "The Lusty Month of May." Seth Daly capably fills the brief role of young Tom of Warwick, tasked with preserving Arthur's shattered dreams.

Tom Buderwitz's versatile unit set allows for maximum fluidity, and Michael Gilliam's lighting expertly conveys the shifting moods. Music director Christy Crowl and a fabulous orchestra capture the magic of one of Broadway's finest scores.

Presented by and at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Jan. 15–Feb. 7. Tue.–Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat. 4 and 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 and 7 p.m. (626) 356-7529.

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