Phillipa Soo enjoys fantasy stories: “Lord of the Rings,” “House of the Dragon,” anything magical with kings and queens involved. That’s partly why, she says, she was drawn to this season’s Broadway revival of “Camelot,” based on the Arthurian legend and opening April 13 at Lincoln Center Theater. Soo, 32, stars opposite Andrew Burnap as Guenevere, King Arthur’s wife and ally — a role that’s long been associated with Julie Andrews, who originated the role onstage in 1960.
But her interest went beyond the show’s mystical underpinnings. “Most poignant to me was this idea of Camelot [as] something that we are, as a society, striving toward — this ideal place where we can have democracy and justice and freedom,” she says. “We are grappling with this question of: What is human nature? Are humans fundamentally good? Are we fundamentally bad? Why are we here?”
Those themes are central to the writer Aaron Sorkin’s new book for the musical, which is woven around the classic songs from Lerner and Loewe’s sweeping score. (Sorkin has stripped away the supernatural elements of the original — no more nymphs or sorcerers — to ground the play in a medieval-era reality.) Soo’s goal, then, is to make Guenevere “a real person,” someone driven above all by a desire to be loved. She sees Andrews’s iconic performance, with her gentle soprano that cemented the cast album as a musical-theater essential, not as a dare but an invitation: “She brought a lot of herself and her charm to her roles,” Soo says. “That was an inspiration for me to do the same.”
Revivals are fresh territory for Soo, who began her professional career originating characters in new works: Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” Off Broadway in 2013; the namesake heroine in the 2017 Broadway adaptation of “Amélie”; and, most famously, Eliza in “Hamilton,” which debuted at New York’s Public Theater in 2015. But this past year, she joined the “Into the Woods” Broadway revival as Cinderella, and then did a brief run as Sarah in “Guys and Dolls” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Yet the new “Camelot,” directed by Bartlett Sher from a rapidly paced Sorkin-esque script, feels less like a remake than a hybrid of a golden-age classic and a contemporary play. (Sorkin also wrote “A Few Good Men,” which premiered on Broadway in 1989, and more recently adapted “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the stage in 2018.) “The book has a tempo in itself: Those deep debates and discussions that Guenevere and Arthur get to have with each other [are understood] in a different way because they’re not through song,” Soo says. “It feels more immediate … I have to focus in a way that I haven’t before.”
Ahead of opening night, T asked Soo to sing and discuss one of her favorite songs: Regina Spektor’s “Samson” (2002).