Camelot (musical)

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Camelot
Camelot Original Cast Recording.jpg
Original Cast Recording
Music Frederick Loewe
Lyrics Alan Jay Lerner
Book Alan Jay Lerner
Basis The Once and Future King by
T. H. White
Productions 1960 Broadway
1963 U.S. tour
1964 West End
1967 Film version
1980 Broadway revival
1981 Broadway revival
1982 Live HBO telecast
1982 Philippines
1993 Broadway revival
2007 U.S. tour
2008 NY Philharmonic Concert

Camelot is a musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music). It is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White novel The Once and Future King.

The original 1960 production, directed by Moss Hart and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang, ran on Broadway for 873 performances, winning four Tony Awards and spawning several revivals, foreign productions, and the 1967 film Camelot. The original cast album was America's top-selling LP for 60 weeks.[1] The musical has become associated with the Kennedy Administration, which is sometimes referred to as the Camelot era, stressing its glamorous, media culture image.

Background[edit]

In 1959, Alan Jay Lerner and Moss Hart decided to adapt T. H. White's The Once and Future King as their next project. As discussed in Lerner's 1978 book, The Street Where I Live, Frederick Loewe, who initially had no interest in the project, agreed to write music, with the understanding that if things went badly, it would be his last score.[2] After the tremendous success of My Fair Lady, expectations were high for a new Lerner and Loewe musical. However, the show's production met several obstacles. Lerner's wife left him during the writing process,[3] causing him to seek medical attention and delaying the production. When Camelot began rehearsals, it still needed considerable work. However, the producers were able to secure a strong cast, including Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Roddy McDowall, as well as Robert Goulet in his first Broadway role. John Cullum also made his Broadway debut as Sir Dinadan; Bruce Yarnell was Sir Lionel. Cullum later replaced McDowall, and William Squire replaced Burton. Other replacements included Patricia Bredin, Kathryn Grayson and Janet Pavek for Andrews.[citation needed]

Tryouts and promotion[edit]

The show premiered in Toronto, at the O'Keefe Centre on October 1, 1960. It overran drastically – it was supposed to last two hours forty minutes, and instead clocked in at four and half hours. The curtain came down at twenty to one in the morning; Lerner later noted that "Only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest."[4] Noël Coward was supposed to have remarked that the show was "longer than the 'Götterdämmerung'...and not nearly as funny!" In spite of this, the morning papers gave generally positive reviews, but hinted that the show needed much work, i.e. drastic editing, in order to succeed. Soon afterwards, Lerner was hospitalised for three weeks with a bleeding ulcer. Soon after he was discharged, Hart suffered his second heart attack, and Lerner stepped in as temporary director for the rest of the out-of-town run. Camelot then moved to Boston, edited, but still running well over the intended length. The production team tried to find another director, even phoning Jose Ferrer, who could not undertake the job.[5] Lerner and Loewe disagreed on how to proceed with the show, as Loewe did not want to make any major changes without Hart's guidance. Lerner wrote: "God knows what would have happened had it not been for Richard Burton." Accepting cuts and changes, he radiated a "faith and geniality" and calmed the fears of the cast.[6] Guenevere's song "Before I Gaze at You Again" was given to Andrews at the last minute before the first New York preview, which provoked her famous quote, "Of course, darling, but do try to get it to me the night before."[7] After the show opened on Broadway, Hart was released from the hospital, and he and Lerner began cutting the play even further. Two songs, "Then You May Take Me To the Fair" and "Fie on Goodness," were cut a few months into the run (though they remain on the cast album, and the former featured in the 1967 film).[citation needed]

The New York critics' reviews of the original production were mixed.[8] Fortunately for the show, Ed Sullivan approached Lerner and Loewe to create a segment for his television variety program, celebrating the fifth anniversary of My Fair Lady. They decided to do very little from their previous hit and instead to perform four highlights from Camelot. The show stimulated ticket sales, and Camelot achieved an unprecedented advance sale of three and a half million dollars.[9][10] Robert Goulet received favorable reviews, most notably for his rendition of the show-stopping romantic ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You", which became his signature song.[11]

Aftermath[edit]

After Camelot's run, Goulet appeared on The Danny Thomas Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, which made him a household name among American audiences.[citation needed]

It was also publicized, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (a classmate of Lerner at Harvard),[12] that the show's original cast recording had been favorite bedtime listening in the White House, and that Kennedy's favorite lines were in the final number (in which Arthur knights a young boy and tells him to pass on the story of Camelot to future generations):

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.[13]

Since then, Camelot has been associated with the Kennedy Administration.[10][14]

The obstacles encountered in producing Camelot were hard on the creative partnership of Lerner and Loewe, and the show turned out to be one of their last collaborations (although they did work together to adapt their 1958 movie Gigi to the stage in 1973, and collaborated again the following year on the movie musical The Little Prince). Camelot was Hart's last Broadway show. He died of a heart attack in Palm Springs, California, on December 20, 1961.[15]

DangerMouse and rapper Jemini on their 2003 debut album Ghetto Pop Life, sampled part of Then You May Take Me To The Fair on the track Don't Do Drugs.

Productions[edit]

Julie Andrews and Richard Burton as Queen Guenevere and King Arthur.
Burton as Arthur and Roddy McDowall as Mordred.
Original production and tours

Camelot opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on December 3, 1960 and closed on January 5, 1963 after 873 performances and 2 previews.[16] Directed by Moss Hart, the choreography was by Hanya Holm, scenic design by Oliver Smith, costume design by Adrian (who worked on the designs prior to his death in September 1959) and Tony Duquette, and lighting design by Feder. It won four Tony Awards. The original cast album was America's top-selling LP for 60 weeks.[1]

A two-year U.S. tour followed the Broadway closing, starring Kathryn Grayson and William Squire, who was succeeded by Louis Hayward. There was also a 1963–64 bus-and-truck tour starring Biff McGuire as Arthur, Jeannie Carson as Guenevere, and Sean Garrison as Lancelot. Yet another company toured with the show in 1964, starring Howard Keel as Arthur, Constance Towers as Guenevere, and Bob Holiday as Lancelot. An Australian production opened in Adelaide in October 1963 produced by the J. C. Williamson company and ran for two years.[1]

Original London production

The London production opened in August 1964 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and featured Laurence Harvey as Arthur, Elizabeth Larner as Guenevere and Barry Kent as Lancelot. It played for 518 performances. The film version was made in 1967 starring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.

Subsequent productions

Richard Burton reprised his role as Arthur in a revival that ran from July 8, 1980 to August 23, 1980 at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center. Christine Ebersole played Guenevere, and Richard Muenz was Lancelot.

The show was revived on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theater from November 15, 1981 to January 2, 1982, and broadcast on HBO a year later, starring Richard Harris as Arthur, Meg Bussert as Guenevere, and Muenz as Lancelot. Harris, who had starred in the film, and Muenz also took the show on tour nationwide. Another Broadway revival ran from June 21, 1993 to August 7, 1993 for 56 performances at the George Gershwin Theatre, with Goulet now cast in the role of Arthur. Goulet reprised this role at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre in 1993.[10]

An 18-month U.S. tour, starring Michael York as Arthur, Rachel York (no relation) as Guenevere, and James Barbour as Lancelot, began on January 9, 2007 and ended in April 2008. Alan Jay Lerner's son, Michael Lerner, contributed changes to the libretto, and Glenn Casale directed.[17] From June 27–30, 2007, the tour played at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre, where the musical had premiered in 1960.[18][19] While the 2007 Michael York tour was performing across the U.S., Candlewood International ran a separate, largely non-equity national tour that played to cities not visited by the union tour. The Morgan Le Fey character was removed as it had been in all previous productions since 1964.. Jeff Buchsbaum directed and Paula Sloan choreographed a cast headed by Robert Brown as Arthur, Matthew Posner as Lancelot, Mollie Vogt-Welch as Guenevere, Gregory Van Acker as Sir Sagramore, Geoff Lutz as Mordred, and Heather Faith Stricker as Lady Catherine.

From May 7 to May 10, 2008, the New York Philharmonic presented five semi-staged concerts of Camelot directed by Lonny Price and produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and starring Gabriel Byrne as King Arthur, Marin Mazzie as Guenevere, and Nathan Gunn as Lancelot. It featured Christopher Lloyd as Pellinore, Stacy Keach as Merlin, Marc Kudisch as Lionel, Bobby Steggert as Mordred, Will Swenson as Sagramore, Christopher Sieber as Dinadan and Fran Drescher as Morgan le Fey. The May 8 performance was broadcast nationally on Live from Lincoln Center on PBS.[20]

Camelot was also put up in San Francsico at San Francisco Playhouse in July 2013 where it received raving reviews.[21]

Roles and original cast[edit]

Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Richard Burton in a 1960 publicity photo for the play.

+ In subsequent productions Alan Jay Lerner removed the "Morgan Le Fey" role to make the second act less comical, replacing the scene between her and Mordred with a Mordred/Arthur scene.

1982 Revival & HBO Cast[edit]

Synopsis[edit]

Act I[edit]

King Arthur is nervous about his upcoming arranged marriage and is hiding in a tree. Merlyn the Magician, his wise tutor, calls Arthur down to warn the young king that he must learn to think for himself. Merlyn, who lives backwards in time and remembers the future as well as the past, knows he will soon be separated from Arthur. Merlyn persuades Arthur to climb down and chides him for his unkingly behavior. Arthur then left alone, ponders both his subjects and his own feelings about the intended nuptials ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?"). Arthur hears someone coming and scampers up the tree again. Guenevere, Arthur's intended bride, comes to the woods. She does not like the idea of being Queen, preferring to live an ordinary life, ("Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). She stumbles into Arthur, who initially calls himself "Wart" (his childhood nickname) and then, hearing of her reluctance to marry, tells her of the joys of life in Camelot ("Camelot"). It is love at first sight, and they almost kiss, but are interrupted when Arthur's attendants come upon the two of them. He is revealed as the King. He tells Guenevere the story of how he pulled the sword from the stone and became king, and she finally agrees to marry him. The wizard Merlyn is amused by this development, but his joy turns to sorrow as his memories of the future begin to fade. He realizes that Nimue, a beautiful water nymph, has come to draw him into her cave for an eternal sleep ("Follow Me"). He begs Nimue for answers, as he has forgotten if he has warned Arthur about two important individuals, Lancelot and Mordred. His memories fade permanently, though, and he is led away.

Five years later, Arthur sits with Guenevere in his study, debating about what to do. He explains that he wishes to create a new kind of knight—one that does not pillage and fight, but tries to uphold honor and justice. He is eventually inspired, with Guenevere's help, to establish the Round Table with the motto "might for right." Five years later, Arthur's idea has led to the Knights of the Round Table being renowned all over the country, and their fame has even spread to France. A young, pretentious and over-religious Frenchman from Joyous Garde named Lancelot du Lac has heard of the Round Table, and is determined to come to Camelot and join Arthur's knights, confident that he is perfect for the post, ("C'est Moi"). King Pellinore, an elderly man who was a friend of Arthur's family, also comes to Camelot to witness Arthur's greatness for himself, and it later seems that he has become part of the family. Guenevere organises a May Day festival on the castle grounds ("The Lusty Month of May"), where Arthur introduces his wife to Lancelot. Guenevere takes an instant dislike to Lancelot. Time passes, and he makes an enemy of most of the knights. Guenevere incites three of them; Sir Dinadan, Sir Sagramore and the burly Sir Lionel, to challenge him to a joust, ("Then You May Take Me to the Fair"). Arthur (who, unlike everybody else, is friendly with Lancelot), is dismayed by this, and is at a loss to understand a woman's way- though he cannot be angry with Guinevere, ("How to Handle a Woman").

In the jousting match Lancelot easily defeats all three knights. He wounds Sir Lionel, who fights him last, so badly that the crowd thinks he is dead. But the dismay of the crowd turns to awe and adoration, as he appears to seemingly resurrect a dead man. This adoration of the crowd extends to Guenevere, who, to her dismay, finds herself falling in love with him. She does not wish to violate her marriage vows, however, and wishes Lancelot would leave Camelot ("Before I Gaze at You Again"). By some unfortunate twist of fate, Lancelot, in spite of his boasts that he is immune to pleasures of the flesh, is also madly in love with Guinevere, and is similarly torn by the conflict between this love and his devotion to Arthur. Arthur makes Lancelot a Knight of the Round Table. As it happens, the shrewd King Arthur guesses that Lancelot and Guenevere have feelings for each other, but hopes it will blow over, as he does not wish to upset the tranquility of Camelot. He soliloquizes to his sword Excalibur, that they will rise to the challenges they will all face, together.

Act II[edit]

Several years later, Guinevere and Lancelot are still tormented by their unfulfilled love. She tries to get rid of him, but Lancelot will not leave her, ("If Ever I Would Leave You"). They both believe that Arthur is not aware of it. Nevertheless, she remains faithful to Arthur, and helps him in carrying out the affairs of State.

Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son, comes to Camelot to dishonor the King and tries to gain the throne for himself. Arthur puts him in charge of the knights’ training program, not knowing that Mordred is there to destroy the Round Table in revenge against Arthur for abandoning him, and detests the idea of being a Knight ("The Seven Deadly Virtues"). Arthur begins to feel the strain of ruling England, and both he and Guenevere wonder what commoners do without any such responsibilities ("What Do The Simple Folk Do?"). Mordred, meanwhile, has devised a plan to ruin Arthur and his kingdom permanently. He enters an enchanted glade where his aunt, the sorceress Morgan le Fay, dwells in an invisible castle. Morgan has a sweet tooth, and though she likes Arthur, Mordred manages to bribe her with a large supply of sweetmeats, to build one of her invisible walls around Arthur for one night, so that when he goes on his hunting trip the next day, he will not be able to get back to the castle ("The Persuasion"). Meanwhile, Mordred incites the Knights to remember their former days of fighting and pillaging, and turns them against Arthur, ("Fie On Goodness!"). With Arthur gone, Lancelot, unable to stop himself, visits Guenevere in her chambers, as Mordred fully suspected he would. They kiss passionately ("I Loved You Once in Silence"). However, Lancelot and Guenevere's affair and Mordred's machinations come to a head when Mordred and some of the Knights of the Round Table interrupt, accuse Lancelot of treason, and try to take him prisoner. Lancelot fights them off and escapes, but Guenevere is arrested, tried, found guilty of treason by reason of her infidelity, and sentenced to be burned at the stake ("Guenevere"). At the execution, Arthur watches from a distance as Mordred taunts him for his failures; he is torn between upholding his law and doing his duty as a king, or sparing Guenevere, whom he still loves in spite of everything. At the last moment, Lancelot arrives with an army, rescues Guenevere and takes her off with him to France. But in the process, Lancelot has been forced to kill some of the other knights, leaving the survivors vowing revenge.

For the sake of his own honor and that of Camelot, Arthur must now wage war against Lancelot. Mordred has taken up his own army against Arthur, back in England. The war takes a terrible toll on Camelot, as more than half of the Knights of the Round Table are killed. Before the final battle, Arthur meets Lancelot and Guenevere. Lancelot and Guenevere's relationship has foundered, doubtless because of their guilty consciences. Guenevere has become a nun, and the Round Table is now broken. They offer to face up to justice in England, but Arthur will not see Guenevere burned or Lancelot beheaded. He forgives them both, and they depart separately. That night in camp, Arthur meets a young stowaway named Tom of Warwick, who has come to join the Round Table. His speech reminds Arthur of the idealism and hope that he had as a young king, and inspires him. Arthur knights Tom, and sends him back to England to grow up there, that he might pass on to future generations the ideals of chivalry and Camelot ("Camelot" (reprise)).

Musical numbers[edit]

§ – Cut shortly into the original 1960 run, still present on cast album.

Critical assessments[edit]

The New York critics' reviews of the original production were mixed to positive.[8] A 1993 New York Times review commented that the musical "has grown in stature over the years, primarily because of its superb score.... [which] combined a lyrical simplicity with a lush romanticism, beautifully captured in numbers like 'I Loved You Once in Silence' and 'If Ever I Would Leave You.' These ballads sung by Guenevere and Lancelot are among the most memorable in the Lerner-Loewe catalogue. King Arthur supplies the wit, with songs like 'I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight.'"[10] A 2003 review noted, "this musically rich, legend-based classic evokes enough swashbuckling spectacle to keep one smiling. And for lovers of dime-store romance, Camelot has it all – a beautiful English princess swept off her feet by a shy, but passionate bachelor king; an ardent French knight, torn between devotion to his liege and an uncontrollable hunger, reciprocated, to be sure, for the king's tempestuous wife.... Camelot features a score rich in English country-tune charm by Mr. Lerner. [sic: Loewe wrote the music] Its lyrics, by Mr. Loewe [sic: Lerner wrote the lyrics], never fail to dazzle with their virtuosity and wit."[22] However, "Jay Lerner's murky book... has helped sink many a revival of the musical.... It's a good story, but Lerner's book is talky and dense, filled with pontificating soliloquies that would have been more powerfully contained in song. Moreover, while the entire show rushes towards a bloody climax... when it finally arrives, it is merely sketched upon in one song, "Guinevere." ...The score, though, is pure magic"[23]

Awards and nominations[edit]

1961 Tony Awards

  • Best Actor in a Musical – Richard Burton (winner)
  • Best Scenic Design (Musical) – Oliver Smith (winner)
  • Best Costume Design (Musical) – Adrian, Tony Duquette (winner)
  • Best Conductor and Musical Director – Franz Allers (winner)
  • Best Actress in a Musical – Julie Andrews (nominee)

1961 Theatre World Award

  • Robert Goulet (winner)

Original cast recording chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Peak
position
1961 US Pop Albums (Billboard)[citation needed] 1
1968 Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[24] 20
Preceded by
The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart by Bob Newhart
Billboard Top Albums (mono) number-one album
March 13, 1961 – April 30, 1961
May 22, 1961 – May 28, 1961
Succeeded by
Stars of a Summer Night by Various artists

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Stempleski, Susan "Review of New York Philharmonic 'Camelot'" classicalsource.com, May 10, 2008, accessed August 20, 2011
  2. ^ Lerner, p. 190
  3. ^ Lerner, p. 204
  4. ^ Lerner, p. 214
  5. ^ Lerner, p. 223
  6. ^ Lerner, pp. 230–31
  7. ^ Lerner, p. 232
  8. ^ a b "At This Theatre:Majestic Theatre (Broadway)" Playbill.com, accessed August 20, 2011
  9. ^ Rogers, Madeline."New York Philharmonic: A Night at the Round Table", Playbillarts.com, May 1, 2008
  10. ^ a b c d Gussow, Mel."'Camelot' Returns With Goulet as King" The New York Times, June 22, 1993
  11. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Always You/In Person - Robert Goulet - Music Reviews", Allmusic, MP3.com, 2002
  12. ^ Kantor and Maslon, p. 280
  13. ^ White, Theodore H. (December 6, 1963). "For President Kennedy: An Epilogue". Life 55 (23): 158–159. 
  14. ^ Frezza, Christine."'Camelot': One Brief Shining Moment" bard.org (Insights), 2005, accessed August 20, 2011
  15. ^ (no author)."Moss Hart Is Dead; Playwright Was 57 (abstract)" The New York Times, December 21, 1961, p.1
  16. ^ Camelot at the Internet Broadway Database
  17. ^ Erstein, Hap. "Performances Noble, But Songs Take Crown In Kravis' 'Camelot'", Palm Beach Post (Florida), April 18, 2008, p. 3E
  18. ^ Berketo, Steven."Reviews; 'Camelot'" torontostage.com, 2007, accessed August 20, 2011
  19. ^ Camelot Canadian listing in the Sonycentre newsletter sonycentre.ca, June 2007[dead link]
  20. ^ Gans, Andrew."Follow Me": Philharmonic's 'Camelot', with Kudisch, Mazzie, Byrne and Gunn, Begins" Playbill, May 7, 2008
  21. ^ "SF Gate". Retrieved 2014-05-14. 
  22. ^ Siegel, Naomi."A Melancholy 'Camelot,' With Plenty of Scenery and Costumes" The New York Times (requires registration), April 13, 2003
  23. ^ Schwartz, Jonas." 'Camelot' Review" Theatre Mania, September 17, 2007
  24. ^ "Musical – Camelot". Norwegiancharts.com. Hung Medien. Retrieved August 8, 2013.

Sources[edit]

  • Lerner, Alan Jay. The Street Where I Live (1978). W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-07532-X
  • Kantor, Michael and Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical (2004). Bluefinch Press, New York, ISBN 978-0-8212-2905-7

External links[edit]