It may say Camelot on the marquee, but this production promises to show a lot.
Casa Mañana's production of the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical based on the Arthurian legends, which opens Saturday, carries an unexpected disclaimer: "This show contains brief nudity and is suitable for mature audiences."
"This production will be darker, sexier and, I dare say, more exciting than one might be picturing when they picture the sort of traditional Camelot, which is often a little too frothy," said director Gabriel Barre, adding that his approach will be "emphasizing the dramatic nature of the story."
And apparently, some costuming will be sacrificed to the cause of fully realizing the plot.
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"In any royal family there are lots of dark secrets. This family is no exception," said Barre, who has directed three other shows at Casa over the years, including an outstanding production of Sweeney Todd in 2009. "We are finding fun ways to represent the backstory to his piece, which is the [begetting] of Mordred. Arthur was lured into Morgause's bed chamber when he was visiting, many years before the show takes place. Mordred is the outcome of that liaison. And so in our opening sequence in this production, we have a sort of visual overture, or prologue as I'm calling it, to the piece, and we will see the [conception] of Mordred and a few other key events that sweep us into the story."
But Barre is depending on a great deal more than a flash of flesh to keep the audience engaged in this musical. He feels it can especially strike a chord with adult audiences who enjoy television programs like Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time and films that give fantasy stories and fairy tales an edgier, and often more adult, turn.
"It has a wonderfully rich book, and there is a lot of dramatic material in the piece. And we are taking our cue, to some extent, from how popular some of the legends have become on television and film recently," said Barre, who was recently showered with award nominations for his direction of an off-Broadway production of The Wild Party.
Barre also thinks this musical, about a British king and his knights, has a surprising resonance for American audiences.
"Even though this legend takes place in England of hundreds of years ago, there is something uniquely American about it," said Barre, a Vermont native who now makes his home in Manhattan. "I see it as a perfect metaphor for America itself. I think that the notion that those [Arthurian] ideals, however imperfect and impractical they may be, and however imperfectly we have lived up to them, the ideals themselves are still a must. We must shoot for them. We must constantly be striving for them. I think that a big part of the popularity of Camelot is that it taps into our constant need in this country to define who we are and what we stand for."
The cast mixes a few actors from outside this market with local talents (as is frequently the case with major productions at Casa). And you might say that one of the imports, Nili Bassman, was "highly" recommended for her role -- given that her advocate was none other than the show's original Queen Guinevere.
"[Bassman] was recommended to me by none other than Julie Andrews herself. I think everyone will agree she completely fulfills every hope and expectation that one might have for an actress playing that part," said Barre, who directed her in a 2005 production of this musical. "I can't wait to be working with her again."
Bassman will be joined by two other actors who, like her, have plenty of Broadway credentials: Bradley Dean (King Arthur) and Josh Tower (Lancelot).
Barre thinks that this musical, which was also a successful 1967 film, has enjoyed such a long life because it taps into the public's enduring admiration for the Round Table's value system.
"There is something in our DNA that is fascinated with chivalry and romance. There's just something about [the Arthurian] era that draws people to it," said Barre. "And I'm very excited to explore new ground and new territory. I am so sure of where we're headed with it."