Arts & Culture

Stage: It's tough to be king

Mark Harapiak and Jayme Armstrong in ‘Camelot.’
Mark Harapiak and Jayme Armstrong in ‘Camelot.’ COURTESY PHOTO

It should come as no surprise that “Camelot” star Mark Harapiak comes from a family of politicians.

Harapiak, who plays King Arthur in the beloved Broadway musical, is the son of a Manitoba, Canada, legislator. His uncle served as cabinet minister twice and his aunt currently serves as Manitoba’s finance minister and deputy premier.

“I felt a pull toward it because it was the family business for a while,” said Harapiak, who ultimately chose a career in dancing and acting.

“It just felt right — being onstage,” he said. “There’s a certain level of adrenaline rush that I enjoy, and a certain sense of accomplishment.”

It’s a good thing, too. For although Harapiak might have had a shining political career, it’s unlikely he would have ever become King of England.

“It’s been a dream come true, quite honestly,” Harapiak said. “(Arthur) is one of those seminal iconic roles. You never know when you start your career if you’ll get a chance to play a role like this.”

Created by “My Fair Lady” songwriting team Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “Camelot” combines Arthurian legend with 20th-century sensibilities.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1960. Winner of four Tony Awards, it has inspired several revivals and an Academy Award-winning movie starring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.

What’s more, “Camelot” is associated closely with the administration of President John F. Kennedy, who made the original cast recording regular bedtime listening.

“It’s amazing how well it stands the test of time,” Harapiak said of “Camelot.” “It’s one of those beautiful old well-crafted musicals. … It’s a real classic right now.”

Based on T.H. White’s book, “The Once and Future King,” “Camelot” centers on the love triangle between gentle King Arthur, beautiful Queen Guenevere and gallant Sir Lancelot.

Harapiak described Arthur as a reluctant hero. “He’s always questioning his ability,” the actor said. “He even says, ‘I never knew I would be (king). I never wanted to be.’ ”

Then Arthur catches a glimpse of Guenevere, the beautiful English princess he’s destined to marry. With the queen by his side, the once-reluctant monarch finds the strength and conviction to pursue his dream of a kingdom ruled by right, not might.

“I’d like to think that, at their essence, people who go into public service go into it with the same attitude Arthur does,” Harapiak said. “He wants to make a perfect society with right and justice at the corner of it.”

But the couple’s brief tranquility is broken by the arrival of passionate French knight Lancelot, who befriends Arthur and wins Guenevere’s heart.

“There’s this torrid affair in (Arthur’s) own house,” Harapiak explained. “His domestic problems become very, very public.”

Torn between protecting his friends and upholding justice, Arthur must decide whether to sacrifice his honor or his true love.

Harapiak has appeared in “Camelot” twice before as Sir Sagramore and Sir Lionel, two of the knights to challenge Lancelot to a jousting match at the end of Act One.

“For me, it’s an entirely different show this time playing Arthur,” he said. “It’s almost like I’m doing a different play.”

For starters, the actor said, “Camelot” eschews spectacle for more personal moments.

“Occasionally there’s a big, splashy piece like ‘Fie on Goodness!’ or ‘The Lusty Month of May,’ ” he said. For the most part, however, musical numbers are limited to solos or duets sung by a few key players.

“There’s a certain intimacy you have to garner, and I think we’ve achieved that,” Harapiak said.

He credits his co-stars, Jayme Armstrong, who plays Guenevere, and Gabriel Burrafato, who plays Lancelot.

Harapiak and Burrafato, who made his Broadway debut in “Bombay Dreams,” have appeared together in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” — playing Gaston and the Beast, respectively.

“All that time we were vying for the same woman as well,” he joked.

This is Harapiak’s first time working with Armstrong, whose credits include “Cabaret,” “Oklahoma” and the Canadian reality show “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”

“It’s always fun when you can be with friends on the road,’ said Harapiak, who has collaborated with “Camelot” director/choreographer Timothy French on several past productions.

According to Harapiak, “Camelot’s” appeal stems from its inspiring story and memorable musical numbers, such as “How to Handle a Woman” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

“Arthur has some amazingly well-crafted speeches that are almost Shakespearean in scope,” he said. “For me, those are a real treat as an actor to sink my teeth into. … It’s a real challenge and a treat every night.”

He’s also drawn to Arthur’s emotional journey, which he described as “sick and complicated and wonderful and tortured.”

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