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by Chris Conley

Bringing Camelot to Broadway in 1960 was a mess. Many of those problems are still apparent today.

Alan Jay Lerner wrote a wonderful score -- some of his best work. We have lovely music. And it isn't enough to carry us though a disjointed and imperfect story. The out of town try outs ran more than four hours. You can tell the play has been cut, and it still has the feeling of a long evening where you're lifted up when the music starts and let down when it ends. Musical-tragedies bring their own challenges, and Camelot's last scene has always been a strange attempt to put a happy face on a less-than-happy ending. These are all problems from 52 years ago, and there's little a community theater production can do to solve it today.

Central Wisconsin Area Community Theater's production gets the two most important thing right. We need good singers -- and they've got 'em. And we need to feel that our three main characters - King Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot - are merely star-crossed without a villain among them. This is more a story of "who can truly know where the heart will lead," and it only works if we feel empathy for all three.

Michael Ruhbush (Arthur) has a rich, warm baritone, and looks both royal and vulnerable. Helena Collins-Price (Guinevere) convinces you that men may indeed fight over her when she sings. Their voices tower over the rest of the cast, which leads to a challenge. Queen Guinevere falls for someone who isn't as good a singer as her betrothed.

Ronda Wadina, as Nimue, gets only one song but is a very good supporting actress. Karl Weyers disappears too early (literally) as Merlin, but is strong in his role.

You've undoubtedly heard 'If Ever I Would Leave You' before. It's one of the best love songs in musical theater. It's far more powerful in the context of the play. This is a song of forbidden love that's been slowly warmed and has now caught fire. You won't sense it from the words, but you'll feel it on stage. When well-delivered it can bring your mind back to a love you once had, or never fully blossomed. You'll enjoy the evening because many of the songs will stay with you long after the show is over.

There are additional shows Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 4pm at the Sentry Theater in Stevens Point.

Chris Conley

By Friedman-Abeles, New York-photographer (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons