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All Bark, No Bite

A Scottish deerhound helps save the show at Porthouse.

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Whaddya mean Jerry Garcia's dead? A sobering moment for Merlin (Alfred Anderson).
  • Whaddya mean Jerry Garcia's dead? A sobering moment for Merlin (Alfred Anderson).

In the second act, when the overambitious Alan Jay Lerner tries to stuff five hundred pages of T.H. White's intricate epic novel The Once and Future King into seventy minutes of song, dance, and drama, it all turns dark and maudlin, almost falling to pieces. It's much like trying to balance the entire Ring cycle on the head of a pin. The ever-dependable Porthouse Theatre, under the auspices of ever-shrewd director Terry Burgler, takes a crack at righting Lerner's booky sins. He throws in a nifty 2001: A Space Odyssey prologue during the overture, wherein barbarians cede to chivalry while boy Arthur yanks the sword Excalibur out of its papier-mâché stone.

As Guinevere and Arthur, Beth Thompson and David Edwards come closer to amiable talk-show hosts than the brooding Welsh monarch known to us by legend in the person of Richard Burton and the equally charismatic druid goddess of Vanessa Redgrave.

Aside from the needlecraft witchery of Jan Evans's sumptuous costumes and the attractive though shaky sets of Ron Keller, there are four performances to make the evening soar. First and foremost is a glorious newcomer named Garth, a noble Scottish deerhound who barks his way into our hearts with his gentle, regal bearing. Much to our bereavement, this distinguished thespian was inexplicably omitted from the cast list and curtain call — obviously some form of human jealousy.

Second in this pantheon is the redheaded wonder Scott Plate. Here, as Lancelot, he brings a shrewd wit and a cunning French accent to a role usually portrayed as an empty and vapid pretty boy, in the Robert Goulet/Franco Nero wooden stud fashion.

Third, newcomer Paul Fidalgo, as the dastardly Mordred, performs a cunning, soft-shoe villain piece as he glides across the fabled Round Table to sing the lively "Seven Deadly Virtues," which illuminates a dark second act.

Fourth, eliciting hearty audience approbation in the surefire role of bumbling Pellinore, is William Pitts, doing an eccentric, rugged individualist number.

While trying to whip this formidable elephant of a show into the guise of an elegantly dancing unicorn, original director Moss Hart (Mr. Kitty Carlisle) succumbed to a heart attack. Fortunately, Terry Burgler survived his encounter with mincing knights and ladies bold to render a palatable slice of medieval razzle-dazzle. — Joseph

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