Thoughts on ‘Artus Excalibur’

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“Artus Excalibur” – a musical by Frank Wildhorn, Ivan Menchell and Robin Lerner, directed by Francesca Zambello

I have to say – I was rather excited to see Artus – Excalibur in St. Gallen and being honest with you guys this probably was the show which made me want to go to St. Gallen in the first place (and I’m still glad about it, because of the first night we spend at Theater St. Gallen!)

Anyway, you don’t always get to see a brand new show in German speakign countries (they keep coming nowadays, but it’s still unusual to have a bigger scale production of a brand new musical). And you don’t always get to see a brand new show written by Frank Wildhorn. I am not the biggest fan of his work, actually I think quite some of his work is a little dull (while I LOVE the score of Bonnie & Clyde I remeber being bored to death by his Count of Monte Christo), I was never drawn to his work because of how great the music is – with the exception of Bonnie & Clyde. When the thought of having to see it found its way into my mind it was more a ‘Gotta catch’em all’-moment than a “Wow…I’m interested in THAT”-thing. In addition to that St. Gallen’s theatre had an amazing moment of star-casting. They cast pretty much the most popular musical theatre actors in Germany/the German speaking countries as the principles – which not only garanteed them an exessive amount of press, but also kept the fans coming (and who doesn’t like that?).

A kind of concept album was released shortly after the premiere, with a number of songs (by far not all, but a decent number…) which gave me the opportunity to have a listen before I went to see it. From the recording alone I wasn’t stunned by any means, but it wasn’t too bad either. It was – once a again – decent music, a little folk-y, a little middle-age-y, a little ‘over the hills of Britannia’-y. As one would expect (from a post of mine over at newmusicaltheatre.com…) I had my issues with the German words which made me wonder what the English original lyrics were like (and I haven’t found out yet, and I think it’ll be a while before I will…) – but over all it kept me excited to see it.

I then saw it on May 30th and to get it out of the way: I wasn’t very fond of it. To be honest it was a moment of “I’m so angry I stayed awake until 2am and woke up at 7am”. By the time intermission came around I knew what was wrong with this show and after a night of thinking-sleeping I’m pretty sure that really was the problem. It wasn’t the music or the way the show was written – while it wasn’t the most mind-blowing thing ever, it wasn’t all too bad. It wasn’t the cast, although each and every one of them played a part in why it just wasn’t good from my point of view. It was the directing.

I usually try to stay away from all too harsh judgements (because: it’s the internet!), but even with all the time since I saw Artus I can’t make it more pleasing.

When I wrote that the problem was the directing I more of less ment: the absence of directing. It was not like “Ooh….what is this supposed to mean?”, it was more like “Eh…did somebody tell the actors what to do?”. Most of the leads I had seen before a number of times, like some of them, then was a little disappointed by them on the next occasion, just as the theatre-wheel goes round and round. One of them, Sabrina Weckerlin, I have been seeing numerous times since she was 19 years old and on stage as Constance in 3 Musketiere in Berlin, I saw her maturing and delivering a superb performance as Natalie Godman in Next to Normal last fall. Because I saw her perform so many times I think I know what she can do acting-wise (once more: Next to Normal) and I think I am able to tell when a director just was doing it wrong. She played evil Morgana (who was given a potencially heart-breaking backstory here) and she was doing just fine during her songs, but when she wasn’t singing it was like she was posing and saying her lines and gesticulating exessively – just as if someone (a director?) had told her: Just do whatever you fancy doing! It was the same with Patrick Stanke, who played Artus and seems to be a kind of go-to-tenor when it comes to heroic young men in German musical theatre. Just doing what he fancied…I could go on and on but I think you get the point, right?

While I wasn’t bored (it was too short to be bored with so much story told, 2.5 hours including intermission), I felt a little insulted soon after intermission when I was able to tell that what happened in the first act just wasn’t a matter of ‘getting started’. It felt so ‘American’ in a way we Europeans tend to say it when something is just scratching the surface of a problem and in a way musical as a genre is seen by so many people in Germany (a fact I’m complaining about in almost each and every post of mine on the newmusicaltheatre.com-blog) and it is just not doing the genre any justice, while people will go and see Artus and those who like ‘musicals’ are gonna keep on liking it while those who have massive prejudices keep having these. But I am so sure that this show (read: this production) would flop on Broadway big times and it so assures me in my thought that ‘American’ and ‘American’ are two different things: While we, and I of course include myself here, sometimes use this adjective to describe a superficial production of a musical (usually like “Oh, this is SO American!” and we mean “Oh, this is so not good!”), real American musical theatre often is SO MUCH BETTER!

Anyway, do these thoughts even make sense?

Have you seen it?

What do YOU think about it?

I’d love to hear!

3 comments

  1. Ich wollte es gerne in St.Gallen sehen, habe es aber verpasst. Wildhorn scheint für seine kurzen Concetpalbum-Shows, was auch immer, immer ziemlich viele deutsche “Musicalstars” ins Boot zu holen und das ist natürlich schon ein Zugpferd. Ich habe auch die CD von Artus, habe aber kaum reingehört irgendwie. Ich bin trotzdem neugierig und würde die Show gerne mal sehen =)
    Sabrina habe ich neulich erst in Friedrich gesehen.

    Und Bonnie & Clyde ist wirklich toll❤

  2. Just came across this. Very astute criticism! I find it very valuable as I am currently rewriting Excalibur for Seoul! Thanks for your thoughts and passion for theatre.
    — Ivan Menchell

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