Actor Finds Magic in Touring, Sustaining a Long Distance Relationship

By Richard Schultz - Jan. 15, 2015

Tim Rogan as Sir Lancelot. Photo by Scott Suchman.

There will be magic in the air at the Mesa Arts Center when a new revamped version of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot makes a stop as part of its national tour.

Camelot is a sweeping tale of passion, pageantry and betrayal, and the winner of four Tony Awards and three Academy Awards. The original 1960 production ran on Broadway for 873 performances and spawned several revivals, foreign productions and the 1967 film. The original cast album was America’s top-selling LP for 60 weeks.

Taught well by Merlin, King Arthur, with his beautiful new queen, Guenevere, rule the kingdom of Camelot with new ideals, bringing peace to a troubled land. With the addition of the dashing Sir Lancelot to the Knights of the Round Table, one of the most fabled love triangles of all time ensues. Mordred, King Arthur’s illegitimate son, catches on and sees a kingdom in chaos and attempts to destroy all that is Camelot.

Camelot Director Michael McFadden has reimagined one of theatre’s most legendary musicals by reworking the original production, resulting in a fresh, tighter show. An accelerated musical score – which includes the enchanting classics “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the title song, “Camelot”  – is enhanced by dramatic percussive rhythms for a renewed feel and modern technology paired with dramatically bold lighting allows the scenery to be more abstract.

Mary McNulty as Guenevere and Mark Poppleton as King Pellinore. Photo by Scott Suchman.

For Mark Poppleton, the actor playing Merlin and King Pellinore, this new version has dazzled him with its freshness and bold direction. Poppleton has toured nationally in The Addams Family, Spring Awakening, and Man of La Mancha. In addition, he has built an extensive resume with regional and stock theatres where he appeared in leading roles in Les Miserable, Deathtrap, Sweeney Todd, Private Lives, and My Fair Lady.

According to Poppleton, he also marvels at the wonders of technology that allow him to stay in touch with his partner of 14 years, David, back in Jacksonville, Florida.

Echo recently chatted with Poppleton about his role, his production and life on the road.

Echo: Tell us about your role as Merlin.

Poppleton: Merlin is a wise old sage with a biting humor that is very tongue and cheek. He’s very parental to Arthur. In contrast, I also play King Pellinore who is just pure comic relief. He has been lost in the woods for 18 years where he has been chasing a beast. I have great fun with both characters. With the King, I’m very spontaneous every performance. I strive to keep it fresh by changing the nuances and trying something new. I then enjoy watching my fellow actors react. They are a terrific cast and roll along right with me.

Echo:  What is it like on the road in a national tour?

Poppleton: When touring, every theatre is different and you need to be open-minded to whatever happens. It helps to have the right personality for all the time together with the cast and crew. We travel by bus and everyone in this company truly gets along. When we arrive at a new theater, sometimes a part of the set is cut due to the size and limitations of the stage. The audience never knows the difference and we adjust to the changes quickly.

Mary McNulty as Guenevere and Adam Grabau as Arthur. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Echo: Can you describe what happens when you arrive in a new city?

Poppleton: For example, on the first day we check in our hotel around 3 p.m. to get settled in. There’s a company meeting at 5:15 p.m. where all the information about the venue is shared by the stage manager. We then get our microphones and do a sound check. That’s when we find out about any changes. Then it’s off to the Green Room for coffee. I’ve got to have my coffee! At 6:45 p.m., there is a fight call where we run each battle scene three times from slow to full speed. My makeup takes about 20 minutes. There’s the five-minute call as a warning. At two minutes, places are called. The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. and that’s day one.

Echo: How have audiences reacted to the show?

Poppleton: The show opens with no overture. Every musician in the orchestra has a drum that builds in intensity. The show opens with a battle. There’s definitely more of a Renaissance feel to the music and the production. Audiences are kept on the edge of their seat with this new staging. The director, Michael McFadden, said in the first rehearsal that it is being treated as a brand new show. He eliminated repetitive elements or references that were dated. In streamlining the show, he worked with the Lerner and Loewe estate because it was also their desire to keep the show fresh and alive. The music is truly glorious. For example, Tim Rogan as Lancelot sings “If I Ever Should Leave You” with simple staging and a cello for accompaniment. It’s truly a beautiful moment. Audiences have been giving standing ovations after each performance.

Echo: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?

Poppleton: In each performance, a local young boy is included in the show. Arthur is getting ready to go to battle and believes his dream is ruined. The boy enters and wants to be a knight. This sense of renewal is a magical moment that works so well.

Photo by Scott Suchman.

Echo: How do you maintain your relationship with your partner, David, when you are traveling all over the country?

Poppleton: That can be challenging. When I did my first tour of Spring Awakening, we just had the phone and we would talk each day. Now, that’s there’s Skype, things are different. We can Facetime several times a day. I feel more in touch with him because of the technology. I’m very lucky to have these opportunities in the theatre and to a partner that supports my passion.

The Camelot tour began in October and continues through May at theatres across the country.

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