After challenging the otherwise sedate notions of dinner theater with whiz-bang productions of the musicals "Cats" and "Miss Saigon," the folks of the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Mesa admit this season’s gone back to the tamer stuff.
Usually, that would be OK, because the Palm knows better than just about anyone in the Valley how to put new life into old war horses.
But the opening production of the Palm’s fifth season, Lerner and Loewe’s medieval musical "Camelot," is little more than a mystical, magical mess.
Not that it’s entirely the Palm’s fault. At its core, "Camelot" doesn’t connect. It’s a sprawling stinker of Renaissance fair fetishism with all the lamely trumped-up drama of a jousting show at one of those theme restaurants where you call the waitresses "wenches" and eat Cornish game hen with your fingers.
The songs — save for a few classics like "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" — don’t exactly stick.
And good luck trying to find depth in the characters — from Merlin the magician to King Arthur. It’s a challenge on the order of yanking Excalibur from the stone.
Broadway Palm artistic director M. Seth Reins takes the helm and does what he can with his source material, whacking it down to two hours and letting his lighting designer, Russell Thompson, go ga-ga with overdone effects.
The director has also assembled a largely sturdy cast to help beef up this royal fluff. This King Arthur, Michael Haws, registers real hurt as he sees his Guenevere (played by Jennifer Davis-Johnson) wooed by the French Lancelot (Michael Sample). Davis-Johnson, meanwhile, may not be able to save her paper-thin character, but she’s got a solid (if unremarkable) voice to power through the show’s tunes.
Sample, an Arizona State University student making his Palm debut, is hunky and bold enough to tackle his Lancelot with the necessary bravado, and his singing voice earns him worthy comparisons to pop - opera crooner Josh Groban.
Sure, his French accent is silly — and vaguely Italian in places. But in a show that’s already galloping full-speed on ye olde cheesy road to Hammytown, that’s almost a good thing.
What keeps this "Camelot" from deserving to be fed to the dragons is simple: The Palm is still one of the best entertainment values in the Valley — thanks to a boffo buffet (crabstuffed sole with artichoke, wild mushroom risotto, herband Parmesan-dusted chicken, among other savory offerings) and the sheer charm and hospitality of the company.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, select Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday matinees. Closing Nov. 12
Where: Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 E. Brown Road, Mesa
Information: (480) 325-6700