Light Opera Works: “Camelot”

If the review of a long-loved musical-theater standard begins with kudos for outstanding sound engineering and a fantastic pit orchestra, it probably doesn’t conclude with the words, “highly recommended.”

Light Opera Works kicks off its 32nd season with Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium, through June 10. Superb musicianship is led by Roger Bingaman and perfectly balanced by sound designer David Lee Bradke.

That’s key for a score with nary a dud in it. And it’s why “Camelot,” the story of the Arthurian legend which opened on Broadway in 1960 with Richard Burton as Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere and Robert Goulet as Lancelot, has a rightful spot in the hearts of musical theater aficionados. A full show synopsis is found here.

Proposition: If “opera” is in the name of the company, its casting director, if forced to choose, must hire singers who act, not actors who sing.

Ultimately, the failure to heed this proposition is what keeps Light Opera’s “Camelot” from being terrific. Nick Sandys’ portrayal of King Arthur is honest and vulnerable, but he fails to display the vocal chops necessary for the lead role. On press night, “How to Handle a Woman,” summoned each patron’s inner Simon Cowell.

For a professional company charging up to $92 per ticket, Sandys simply does not sing well enough. Happily, most of the rest of the cast does. Jennie Sophia is a lovely Guenevere and William Travis Taylor’s rich voice soars as Lancelot, especially in the gorgeous ballad, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” that opens the second act.

The ensemble songs, as to be expected from this company, are terrific. “The Lusty Month of May” is particularly well done toward the end of Act One.

Skip Lundby deserves acclaim for his Pellinore, the kind, approachable house-guest-who-won’t-leave. So, too, does Patrick Tierney for his snarky Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son who ultimately brings down the kingdom.

Proposition: Older book musicals, written so audiences would feel they got their money’s worth for a night at the theater, rely on professional pacing to keep them fresh and audiences interested.

Case in point is Drury Lane Theatre. Stagings of “The Sound of Music” and “Gypsy” within in the past six months introduced dynamic, young actresses who seized the lead roles (Jennifer Blood as Maria and Andrea Prestinario as Louise). The results were nightly, well-deserved standing ovations from sellout crowds.

But here, too, Light Opera’s “Camelot” falls short. Taylor comes closest as Lancelot, but this production needs Arthur to be the vocal king. From the opening curtain, this show drags. Michael Harnichar as a Lucius Malfoy-esque Merlin confuses the story rather than enhances it. And the Act Two subplot of Mordred’s enchanting aunt Morgan le Fey (Patrice Egleston) has audience members checking their watches.

With this “Camelot’s” run coinciding with Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee celebration, Chicagoland Anglophiles might be tempted to drop into Evanston for this glance at Arthurian England. But truth be told, they’ll likely leave somewhat underwhelmed.

Light Opera Works’ “Camelot” will be performed through June 10 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street, Evanston. Tickets are $32-$92, half price for ages 21 and younger. More information is available at (847) 920-5360 or at www.lightoperaworks.com.