Grosse Pointe Theatre’s ‘Camelot’ promises knights to remember

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 11, 2018

 From left, Zack Coates, Megan Welenc and Jude Purcell play King Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot, respectively, in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical “Camelot.”

From left, Zack Coates, Megan Welenc and Jude Purcell play King Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot, respectively, in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of the musical “Camelot.”

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — To open its 76th season, Grosse Pointe Theatre is dusting off a classic show from its past.

The 1960 Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical “Camelot,” which was first staged by GPT in 1989, will be produced on the Pierce Middle School auditorium stage for a run Sept. 16-29. The show, adapted from “The Once and Future King,” by T.H. White, is loosely based on the tale of the legendary King Arthur, a medieval warrior and leader of the kingdom of Camelot who may or may not have been a real person.

With his new bride, Queen Guenevere, at his side, an optimistic young King Arthur seeks to build a more peaceful kingdom based on honor and dignity, as exemplified by his Knights of the Round Table. But forces around the king conspire to upend his idealistic vision, and when Guenevere finds herself torn between Arthur and his valiant young knight, Lancelot, the kingdom’s very future is threatened.

Making her GPT directorial debut is Leta Chrisman, of Clawson, but she’s no stranger to the stage, having earned her master’s degree in theater from Wayne State University and directed other shows before.

“Camelot” does involve a love triangle, Chrisman said, but the story is bigger than that.

“It’s so much about duty and doing the right thing, which is much more interesting than a girl likes two boys,” she said. “There’s a lot of great overarching themes, set to a beautiful musical backdrop.”

Songs include “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “I Loved You Once in Silence.”

Playing King Arthur is Zack Coates, of Detroit. Coates said this Arthur starts out younger than he has been portrayed in other productions; the Arthur of legend would have been quite young when he became the king, so this portrayal is more historically accurate.

“He’s got so much you can do with him,” said Coates, who appreciates being able to follow Arthur’s arc and maturity. “He really becomes a man of peace.”

Jude Purcell, of Troy, is equally thrilled to be playing Lancelot, which he called a “dream role ever since I was a kid.” Along with his fellow knights, Purcell has been training for the last couple of months in sword fighting, although it’s a skill that the actors only need for a moment in the show.

“It helps add some realism,” he said of the training.

It’s also a safety issue. Although the swords the actors are using aren’t real, they are made of metal.

“People have to know how to telegraph their movements so nobody gets hit,” Purcell said.

Trevor Sherry, of Clinton Township, who plays the scheming, villainous Mordred, King Arthur’s illegitimate son, said he was excited about working with Chrisman as a director.

“And also, ‘Camelot’ (and) Arthurian legend has always been my jam,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in that.”

Sherry said everyone, from the cast to the director to the technical director, costumers and the rest of the crew, have been “spot on.”

“This has definitely been one of the highlights of my acting career,” he said.

Other actors in the cast include Megan Welenc of Rochester Hills as Guenevere, Ron Otulakowski of Eastpointe as Pellinore, Dan Woitulewicz of Detroit as Merlyn, Jeanette Wilson as Nimue, and Kimme Suchyta of Detroit as Morgan Le Fey.

The ensemble includes Joseph Allen of Warren, Joseph Domino of Detroit, Eddie Tujaka of Grosse Pointe Farms, Danielle Vogler of Grosse Pointe City, Virginia Lee of Grosse Pointe City, Jessica Tujaka of Warren, Elizabeth Schaefer of Grosse Pointe Park, Michael Parker of Grosse Pointe Woods, Gordon Richardson of Grosse Pointe Park and Robert Lee of Grosse Pointe City.

Chrisman said the show runs 2 1/2 hours, not including intermission. But while the show is “immense,” she said it’s also “a beautiful show” with wonderful music and a great cast.

The director said that one of her goals was to make these characters relatable.

“We have a cast of characters who are mythic, and we’ve made them into humans,” Chrisman said.

Lauren Berndt, of St. Clair Shores, who plays Lady Sybil and is in the ensemble, praised Chrisman’s take on these larger-than-life figures.

“It really humanizes the characters from those fairytale characters we all read about,” Berndt said

“Camelot” is a heavy show in many ways, so Chrisman made sure to also highlight a few of its moments of happiness to balance that out.

“She’s phenomenal,” Berndt said of Chrisman. “She has this amazing vision for the show — keeping it classic but adding that fun twist to it. The audience is not going to expect what they’re going to get.”

In keeping with this period piece, expect a castle with a working drawbridge, along with lavish costumes — some borrowed, some created for the show and some transformed from donated clothing into medieval garb by GPT volunteers.

The wardrobe does more than define the characters. “Camelot” takes place over the course of about 15 years.

“We have to actually show the passage of time,” said Costume Chair Anna Chrisman, of Harper Woods. Leta Chrisman is her sister.

Free valet parking will be available for GPT patrons. Pierce Middle School is located at 15430 Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. Tickets cost $25. For advance tickets or more information, call GPT at (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.

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