Chattanooga Now Theatre Centre puts a 'Mad Men' spin on Lerner and Loewe's 'Camelot'

Chattanooga Now Theatre Centre puts a 'Mad Men' spin on Lerner and Loewe's 'Camelot'

June 16th, 2016 by Susan Pierce in Chattanooga Now - Art

King Arthur (Scott Shaw) and Queen Guenevere (Megan Cobb) create Camelot's roundtable in a midcentury-modern retelling of "Camelot," opening Friday, June 17, at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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If you go

› What: “Camelot.”

› When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, June 17-18, 24-25, July 1-2 and 8-9; 7 p.m. Thursday, June 23; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 26.

› Where: Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.

› Admission: $35 opening night, $30 remaining nights. Some $15 tickets available for the Thursday and Sunday performances.

› Phone: 423-267-8534.

Website: www.theatrecentre.com.

Special events

Friday, June 17: Opening night gala, 7 p.m.

Thursday, June 23: Real-time captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons

Friday, June 24: Ghostlight/talk back with cast and director

Friday, July 8: Girls Night Out with complimentary drinks and snacks, 7 p.m.

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Come for the show, stay for the fireworks

Audience members attending the Saturday, June 18, performance of “Camelot” are invited to stay after the show to watch Riverbend’s fireworks finale. Guests will have a front-row seat for the fireworks show from the theater’s riverfront patio.

Show tickets are $30, and parking is guaranteed in the CTC lot for $4. Parking is free for theater subscribers.

Call the box office at 423-267-8534 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday for tickets, or get them online at TheatreCentre.com.

What might a mash-up of a Lerner and Loewe medieval musical and the 1960s era of the Kennedy administration look like?

Find out when "Camelot" opens Friday, June 17, in the Circle Theatre of the Chattanooga Theatre Centre for 10 performances. This fresh look resets the classic musical, which debuted in 1960, into the cocktail culture popularized by the TV series "Mad Men."

Combining the two was an idea that grew in director Scott Dunlap's mind as he researched the 55-year-old musical. Unknown to Dunlap, the same comparison was evolving in the mind of CTC Executive Director George Quick as well.

"Both Scott and I had this idea that a reimagined production of 'Camelot' set in the Kennedy era could be really good storytelling," says Quick. "We thought that because 'Camelot' was Jack and Jackie Kennedy's favorite musical, and since that administration was frequently referred to as Camelot, there was definitely something there to be mined."

"I found that Alan Jay Lerner and John F. Kennedy were actually in [high] school together, they were on their school's yearbook staff together," says Dunlap. The two men also attended Harvard University together.

"They were contemporaries, and often we forget that. I thought the fact they knew each other was interesting because the Kennedy White House was often referred to as Camelot. Then there is the quote from Jackie Kennedy after JFK's assassination about 'Camelot is over,'" says Dunlap.

That quote was made by the former first lady during an interview with Life magazine a week after Kennedy's assassination. The first lady revealed she and her late husband enjoyed listening to the cast album of "Camelot" at bedtime and that he particularly liked the title song's last lines: "Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

She was then quoted as saying, "There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot" — a statement credited for planting the seeds of comparison between that decade's popular musical and the Kennedy White House.

Dunlap has set Arthur's court in the 1960s with sets and costumes that look right out of "Mad Men." Don't be surprised if Guenevere steps onstage in a pillbox hat instead of the Middle Ages' cone-shaped hennin.

"I tried to blend the federal with midcentury for sets," says Dunlap. "The set has a little feeling of a government building with its classical architecture, mixing that with midcentury. But the audience will see nods to the Middle Ages, too. For example, flags from different countries in a circle, much like the knights of Middle Ages carried banners for their houses. The fact the show is in the Circle is a little nod to the roundtable."

Dunlap also discovered that fashion of the 1960s seemed influenced by the Middle Ages and the popularity of "Camelot."

"The hemlines were severely shorter in the '60s, but there is a flash of gold, or ornate embroidery, right down the middle of dress fronts, which if they were longer would look exactly like something Guenevere would have worn. Even the men had the Beatles' pointed shoes, which were very much like men would have worn, and the tapered pants legs mirrored tights," he says.

All Frederick Loewe's beloved songs from the musical are here but may be performed with a different tempo, made to sound more like a folk song of the '60s or backed by a jazz trio. Tim Hinck's talent was tapped to write these arrangements.

Scott Shaw is cast as Arthur, and Megan Cobb is his Guenevere. Jeremy Campbell is making his CTC debut as Lancelot. John Hammons plays Merlyn, and Joshua Harrell is the scheming Mordred. The full cast includes 17 actors.

Both Quick and Dunlap think audiences will be intrigued by this new interpretation.

"It lets the audience hear and see the story in a new light. It doesn't change the meaning. It just emphasizes the way you hear and see it," Quick explains.

Audiences can expect to see the same love story/triangle between Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot play out, presented by a "really strong cast" says Quick.

"Theater is telling a story, and every storyteller tells it their way," Dunlap says.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com.