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Welcome to King Arthur's court: 'Camelot' hits the stage this week

(Left to right) Paul Conklin playing Pellinore, Chuck Deeter playing King Arthur, Mary Anderson playing Guenevere, and Jeffrey Willis as Sir Lancelot in the Bemidji Community Theater production of "Camelot." Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer 1 / 3
Mary Anderson playing Guenevere and Jeffrey Willis as Sir Lancelot in the Bemidji Community Theater production of "Camelot." Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer 2 / 3
Jeffrey Willis as Sir Lancelot in the Bemidji Community Theater production of "Camelot. Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 3

BEMIDJI—Merlyn, King Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, knights in shining armor, ladies in waiting, combat. All the exciting elements of the Arthurian legend come together beginning Thursday, Nov. 9 when Bemidji Community Theater presents Lerner and Lowe's musical "Camelot" at the historic Chief Theater.

Performances are scheduled Nov. 9-11 and Nov. 16-18.

As the stage becomes the mythical kingdom, a castle looms in the distance, swords flash and clang, and music and dance fill the air. The 36 cast members immerse themselves and the audience in the Middle Ages of Arthur's time: a time of chivalry where knights followed a code of honor, where magicians such as Merlyn (Paul Conklin) awed those around with enchantment, where a round table seating 150 knights was said to hold court, where a young king Arthur (Chuck Deeter) meets his wife to be Guenevere (Mary Anderson) with trepidation and foreboding, and where Lancelot (Jeffrey Roy Willis) enters singing "C'est Moi."

Under the deft direction of Mary Knox-Johnson, with vocal direction by Julie Loxtercamp, accompanists Sarah Carlson and Dan Will, scenic design by Dwayne Johnson, scenic painting by Gregg Wilimek and Dian Elizabeth Smith, and the guidance of stage manager Kristine Cannon, the Lords and Ladies of the Court appear in formal attire replete with armor, swords, and other necessities of the medieval era. We see the magical forest of Morgan Le Fey (Carla Norris- Raynbird) and boo the evil machinations of Mordred (JJ Riggs). The tutelage of Jeremiah Liend and Kirk Karstens, combat choreographers, is evident when the knights take to the stage, weapons drawn, in fierce battles over the fate of Guenevere. And, although the jousts are not actually on stage, the actions, words and music will draw you in as if you were there watching as ... sorry, no spoilers here.

The cast has been rehearsing since August and has had the benefit of the use of the new Bemidji Community Theater home space at 316 Beltrami Ave. NW, where actors run lines, groups rehearse music, costumers sew, knights rehearse combat sequences and dancers run through specific routines, all at the same time under the same roof. This efficiency helps BCT bring this time-honored tale to the stage.

The production is underwritten by and supported with donations from: American Garage Door, Bemidji Area Arts Endowment, Bemidji Steel Company, Bonded Lock and Key, First National Bank Bemidji, Hand Electric, Honda Chrysler of Bemidji, Maggert Concrete, MoeCo Fire and Safety, Northwoods Lumber, Paul Bunyan Communications, Raphael's Bakery and Sanford Health.

The original 1960 version of "Camelot," based on the Arthurian legend from T. H. White's novel "The Once and Future King," ran on Broadway for 873 performances, starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet, won four Tony awards and became the basis for several revivals including the Disney animated film "The Sword in the Stone," and the 1967 film "Camelot" starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. Modern-day versions of the story abound in both film and literary forms. One of the more novel instances include "The Trial of Mordred: Insurrection in Camelot," a mock trial in June of 2016 which included Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan. The Camelot Project, a database of Arthurian texts, images, bibliographies, and basic information is housed at the University of Rochester, N.Y. If you are a serious student of Arthur, then maybe you want to earn a degree at the Centre for Arthurian Studies at Bangor University in the UK. Whatever your decision, you will be enchanted by Bemidji Community Theater's interpretation of the Arthurian Legend.

If you go

What: "Camelot"

When: Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7 p.m. (new start time); Nov. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m.

Where: Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave. NW.

Tickets: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors 65 and above; $6 for children under 18. Available at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry and Iverson Corner Drug. If tickets are not sold out, they will be available at the door one hour before performance time

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