Originally created 09/13/98

Supporting actor gets laughs in 'Camelot'



Not often in the swollen-head arena of show business does a headlining star get upstaged and onstage sparks not fly.

But this was the case Wednesday at the William B. Bell Auditorium for the final show of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot, which starred veteran Robert Goulet as King Arthur.

James Valentine, portraying the bumbling Pellinor, stole the show as the absent-minded member of King Arthur's court, cavorting clumsily across the stage and spitting out clever word play.

Mr. Valentine had that sort of Jim Carrey effect on the audience: As soon as he appeared onstage people started giggling.

At one point Mr. Goulet couldn't contain himself and burst out laughing at his sidekick's shenanigans, which in turn created quite a buzz with the audience.

After suppressing his laughter, like a schoolboy who'd be punished as if he were caught having fun, Mr. Goulet attempted to deliver his next line and a little bit of ad-libbing was exchanged between the actors.

Finally, gasping, Mr. Goulet said, "I need. . . .I need some fresh air."

I'm not sure if this line is in the script, but it was very appropriate to the moment.

At the end of the show, Mr. Valentine, who starred as Merlin in the 1980 Richard Burton revival of Camelot, received the loudest roar of applause when the cast took curtain calls.

But Mr. Goulet is a gracious enough star to handle it, looking sheepish when Mr. Valentine exited stage left after causing the star to break up in laughter.

Aside from the momentary breakdown, Mr. Goulet, 64, was superb.

He was as relaxed as if he were sitting in your living room, sipping wine and chatting about the day's events. His voice, both speaking and singing, is like the low hum of a sturdy machine.

A few things struck me about this production, purported to be Mr. Goulet's last go-round in Camelot, that seemed to transcend the stage and reflect real life.

For starters, the character King Arthur is a reluctant ruler, not at ease on the throne, affecting people's lives and waging war. He is only king because he kind of backed into it, pulling the mighty sword Excalibur out of an anvil.

Mr. Goulet, as he told me in a recent interview, didn't really want to be an entertainer, but he kind of fell into it too. People, including his ailing father, wouldn't let him get away with not using his powerful singing voice. Like King Arthur, he didn't want the role but decided to make the best of it.

Secondly, during the onstage exchanges between Mr. Goulet and his son Michael, playing King Arthur's bastard son Mordred, I couldn't help but think that the younger is being groomed to carry the banner of Camelot into the future.