The annual Bay Street Theater musical is a Sag Harbor tradition that was sorely missed last year, as most things were, and last week the tradition made its much-anticipated return with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Camelot. This isn’t your typical Bay Street production, however; it’s drastically switched up the norm for the sake of health, safety and a touch of magic.
First off, don’t let the production’s use of the word “concert” deter you. This is as grand a musical as Bay Street shows are known to be—selectively small cast (11 actors in this case), full band behind the stage, intimate setting and a show that trades a few of the bells and whistles for a magnifying glass that allows the audience to get a closer look at these iconic characters, their motivations and relationships and the lessons to be learned from them.
The main difference from previous musicals is location, with Camelot taking place in an enchanting circle of trees in Bridgehampton, rather than on the theater’s stage in Sag Harbor. This decision gives the show a level of poetic power impossible to achieve indoors. The show begins in the daylight, introducing the audience to King Arthur (Jeremy Kushnier) and Guenevere (Britney Coleman) in a time of optimism and hope for a bright and peaceful future in Camelot, but the sun quickly sets on his idealistic thinking, heralding in the deceit and betrayal that fester in the cover of night.
Despite the overcast sky on opening night, the magic remained, and characters adapted effortlessly. In the first act, Guenevere responds to Arthur’s claim of seeing Merlin in the moon with a sarcastic, “If you say so,” earning one of her first laughs of the show. Guenevere, as portrayed by Coleman, succeeds at not only stealing the hearts of nearly every character she interacts with, but of nearly every audience member who witnesses her infectious joy. In this role, Coleman plays frisky and playfully troublesome, breathing so much fun and energy into any scene she’s in—none more so than in “Then You May Take Me to the Fair.” This number and “The Lusty Month of May” before it perfectly showcase Coleman’s unending charm and staggering vocal prowess, while also demonstrating how Marcos Santana’s masterful choreography can make a number featuring just a few dancers seem grand in scale and spectacular in execution.
Then there’s King Arthur. In an interview with Dan’s Papers, Kushnier explains that he often gets cast as villainous characters, but if Camelot is one’s first time seeing him perform, this will likely sound like a far-fetched claim. As the most relatable and tragic of the three leads, Arthur’s character arc is key to the emotional impact of the play, and Kushnier hits the mark at every stage—wonderfully capturing Arthur’s meek beginning, starry-eye optimism, shock of betrayal, pained yet unwavering loyalty and, ultimately, his renewed sense of virtuous purpose. Kushnier’s impressive rendition of the classic “How to Handle a Woman” gets the audience roaring, and his reprise of “Camelot” is able to command the audience to a standing ovation by its final note.
Rounding out the show’s core trio is Sir Lancelot, portrayed by Deven Kolluri, who’s dashing style is rivaled only by his delightfully over-the-top demeanor in the first act. Kolluri’s rendition of “C’est Moi” beautifully blends the outrageously boastful lyrics with exaggerated stage directions and powerful baritone vocals. As the show progresses, Lancelot transitions from French caricature, a la Beauty and the Beast‘s Gaston, to a passionate, devoted lover and compromising, tormented friend, and Kolluri handles the transition with expert nuance. As this more grounded Lancelot, Kolluri serenades Guenevere and the audience with “If Ever I Would Leave You,” a touching love song made all the sweeter by his velvety vocals.
An additional highlight of Lancelot’s scenes in act one is the presence of Squire Dap (Aaron Dalla Villa) who, while largely voiceless, provides some of the most eccentric reactions and an abundance of sass from the sidelines. Fret not when the squire disappears in act two, because Dalla Villa returns as a wildly eccentric take on the villainous Mordred. With the main trio of characters engulfed in the drama of their scandalous love triangle, Mordred enters at just the right time to inject some chaotic energy and wicked, good fun into the show—particularly in “Fie on Goodness!” which is quite possibly the best number in the production.
The two-story wooden stage and colorful lights amid the trees make for a hauntingly beautiful nighttime setting for the events of Camelot to unfold, and congratulations are in order for director Scott Schwartz and his entire team of managers, designers, actors, musicians and Bay Street staff. Camelot makes for a magical evening and a wonderful return to musical theater in the Hamptons.
Bay Street Theater’s Camelot runs Tuesday–Sunday through August 29 at 2011 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. Tickets start at $45 and are available through the box office by calling 631-725-9500 or by visiting baystreet.org.