WNPR

Bridgeport Boy Brings "Camelot" to Life at Westport Playhouse

Oct 28, 2016

"There is something kind of mythical about the story from the beginning."
Robert Sean Leonard

Sana Sarr is 11 years old. He goes to a magnet school in Bridgeport. He's in the sixth grade. 

And right now, five times a week, he opens each performance of Westport Country Playhouse’s current production of the Lerner and Loewe musical "Camelot" with this line:

The ancient and glorious tale of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and what befell them...

And that must be pretty cool on its own, right? He's an 11-year-old, performing on a stage where actors like Paul Newman and Jane Fonda have performed, and acting alongside a Tony Award-winner like Robert Sean Leonard.

But it's not the coolest part. The coolest part is that Sana comes out every night and says that line... and he's playing himself.

"It's actually supposed to really be me," Sana said. "'Cause I come out in my pajamas. And I'm this boy from modern time."

In the script, the line of dialogue has the name "SANA" above it. It's actually supposed to really be him.

And let me explain why.

The Revelers in Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," directed by Mark Lamos, at Westport Country Playhouse.
Credit Carol Rosegg / Westport Country Playhouse

"Camelot" is a musical with a long, rich history of, well, not being performed professionally very much.

"It's often referred to as 'Costsalot' because it can be a very big show," Leonard, this production's Arthur, said. "Often it's big, lavish sets and an enormous cast, and the running time is often three hours or so."

Mark Lamos, the Artistic Director at Westport Playhouse, said that, "It's been impossible to revive in any sort of regional theater situation, really. Because it was conceived on such an enormous, epic scale as a musical."

With all those great Lerner and Loewe songs.

But this production, an adaptation by David Lee, narrows the focus of the show, and shortens its running time.

"So to have this wonderful story told for them, with most of the glorious score intact, in two hours and fifteen minutes, I think, really interests a lot of people," Lamos, who's directing this "Camelot," said. "I read [Lee's adaptation], and I thought, 'This is wonderful. He's pared this down to the essential story, which is this tragic love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.'"

Merlin isn't in it, at least not directly. The sets are largely simplified.

But the songs are still there, and all the medieval action sequences you'd expect, the sword fights and the jousting.

And this is where Sana Sarr comes in.

Sana Sarr in his dressing room before a performance of "Camelot" at Westport Country Playhouse last week.
Credit Jonathan McNicol / WNPR

"Well, it is a tale. Arthur is, it is a myth," Leonard said of the character he plays. "As he says at the end, he says to the kid, 'Remember this story and tell everyone who's never heard it.' There is something kind of mythical about the story from the beginning."

Sana was originally cast just to play Tom, a young boy who, at the end of the play, comes to King Arthur from outside of Camelot and explains that he's heard all about what's going on there:

I know everything, Milord.
Might for right!
Right for right!
Justice for all!
The Round Table where all the Knights would sit!
Everything!

"There's something about working with children that unlocks a certain something for me in conceiving a show," Lamos said. "And once I had this extraordinary young actor, I put him in more and more of it, and got the whole idea of using him to begin it and everything else."

At the beginning of the show, Sana comes out in his pajamas, and he's playing with these toy knights in armor. And then he delivers that introductory line.

Britney Coleman, Sana Sarr, Robert Sean Leonard, Stephen Mark Lukas, Patrick Andrews, and Michael De Souza in Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot," directed by Mark Lamos, at Westport Country Playhouse.
Credit Carol Rosegg / Westport Country Playhouse

The idea is, the whole thing -- the kingdom, the king and the queen, the knights, the jousting -- it's all happening, as it would, in this 11-year-old boy's imagination, in Sana's imagination. He's our way into this fantastical story.

"It was so interesting, I never really told [Sana] why he was doing all this," Lamos said. "Because he just was doing it so well. And the other day, he said, 'Now, I just want to talk through who I am.' And I stood there, stock still. I was in shock. I said okay. He said: 'So I'm a boy, like a modern boy, in my pajamas, playing in my bedroom with these toys, right? And then I give the play to the world.'"

Lamos said he nearly burst into tears. "It was so touching," he said, adding that he told Sana: "You're absolutely right. That’s the journey your character takes."

Two years ago, Sana Sarr tried out for the school play, to try acting, because he "wanted to try something new." At nine years old.

And now, five times a week, this kid, this sixth grader from Bridgeport, gets to give this story to the world, the story of "Camelot."