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Camelot is a musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederic Loewe (music). It is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White tetralogy 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 Broadwaymarker for 873 performances, winning four Tony Awards and spawning several revivals, foreign productions and a 1967 film version. The original cast album was America's top-selling LP for 60 weeks. The musical has become associated with the Kennedy Administration.

Background

In 1959, Alan Jay Lerner and Moss Hart decided to adapt T. H. White's Once and Future King as their next project. As discussed in Lerner's 1978 book, The Street Where I Live, Frederick Loewe, who had no interest in the project, agreed to write music, with the understanding that if things went badly, it would be his last score. 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, 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 Broadwaymarker 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.

The show's first tryout was in Toronto, at the O'Keefe Centre in 1960. The curtain came down at twenty minutes to one in the morning; Lerner later noted that "Only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest." The morning papers, though kind, hinted that the show needed much work in order to succeed. Lerner was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer and had to withdraw from preparations for a time. Hart then suffered a heart attack, and Lerner stepped in as temporary director for the rest of the out-of-town run at the behest of Kitty Carlisle Hart. Camelot then moved to Boston, nearly an hour and a half shorter, but still running very long. The production team tried to find another director, even phoning Jose Ferrer, who could not undertake the job. 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. 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." 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.

The advance sale for the show was the largest in Broadway history. The New York critics' reviews of the original production were mixed. Fortunately for the show, Ed Sullivan approached Lerner and Loewe to create a segment for his TV show "Toast of the Town," 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. It was also publicized, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (a classmate of Lerner at Harvardmarker), that the show's original cast recording had been favorite bedtime listening in the White Housemarker, 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):

Since then, Camelot has been associated with the Kennedy Administration.

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 rejoin each other to adapt their 1958 award-winning movie "Gigi" to the stage in 1973; and collaborated again the following year on the movie musical "The Little Prince"). Camelot was also Hart's last Broadway show. He died of a heart attack in Palm Springs, California on December 20, 1961.

The 1960 Original Broadway Cast Recording CD cover


Productions

On December 3, 1960, after two previews, the show opened on Broadwaymarker at the Majestic Theatremarker. The production was directed by Moss Hart and ran for 873 performances, winning four Tony Awards. The original cast album was America's top-selling LP for 60 weeks. A two-year U.S. tour followed the Broadway closing in January 1963, 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. An Australian production opened in Adelaide in October 1963 produced by the J. C. Williamson company and ran for two years.

The London production opened in August 1964 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lanemarker 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.

Richard Burton reprised his role as Arthur in a revival that ran during the summer of 1980 at the New York State Theatermarker at Lincoln Centermarker. Christine Ebersole played Guenevere, and Richard Muenz was Lancelot.

The show was revived on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatermarker in November 1981 and broadcast on HBO a year later, starring Richard Harris as Arthur, Meg Bussert as Guenevere, and Richard Muenz as Lancelot. Harris, who had starred in the film, and Muenz also took the show on tour nationwide. Another Broadway revival played in June 1993 for 56 performances at the George Gershwin Theatremarker, with Goulet now cast in the role of Arthur. Goulet reprised this role at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre in 1993.

A U.S. Regional tour, starring Michael York as Arthur, James Barbour as Lancelot, and Rachel York as Guenevere, kicked off on January 9, 2007 and continues in 2008. Alan Jay Lerner's son, Michael Lerner, contributed changes to the libretto, and Glenn Casale directs. The cast also includes Shannon Stoeke as Mordred and Eric Anderson as Merlyn. Notable cast replacements include Lou Diamond Phillips as Arthur, Matt Bogart as Lancelot, and Rachel De Benedet as Guenevere. From June 27-30, 2007, the tour played at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre, formerly the O'Keefe Centre, where the musical had premiered in 1960.

While the 2007 "Michael York" Regional tour was performing across the U.S., Candlewood International ran a separate, largely non-equity national tour that played to citites not visited by the union tour. Jeff Buchsbaum directed a cast headed by Robert Brown as Arthur, Matthew Posner as Lancelot, and Mollie Vogt-Welch as Guenevere (ironically, Vogt-Welch would go on to perform with James Barbour of the union tour in Broadway's A Tale of Two Cities ). The cast also included Geoff Lutz as Mordred, Noah DeBias as Dinadan, Dave Howard as Lionel, Gregory Van Acker as Sir Sagramore, and Heather Faith Stricker as Lady Catherine. As in the union tour, for this production the Morgan Le Fey sub-plot was removed.

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. The cast starred Gabriel Byrne as King Arthur, Marin Mazzie as Guenevere, and opera singer Nathan Gunn as Lancelot. It also featured Christopher Lloyd as Pellinore, Marc Kudisch as Lionel, Bobby Steggert as Mordred, Will Swenson as Sagramore, Christopher Seiber as Dinadan and Fran Drescher as Morgan le Fey. The May 8 performance was broadcast nationally on Live from Lincoln Center on PBS.

Roles and original cast



Synopsis

Act I

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 comes to the woods, having snuck away from Camelot where she is to marry, is uncertain about herself and the impending marriage ("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"). When his 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, charmed by him, agrees to marry. 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 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 to "fight for right, not might." When news of this reaches young Lancelot in France five years later, he is determined to come to Camelot and join Arthur's knights ("C'est Moi"). King Pellinore (a middle-aged old friend of Arthur's from his boyhood), also arrives and becomes a permanent guest of Arthur and Guenevere. A May Day celebration takes place on the castle grounds ("The Lusty Month of May"), where Arthur introduces his wife to Lancelot. Guenevere takes an instant dislike to the overly self-assured young man (as do also most of the rest of the court). Guenevere incites three knights of the Round Table: Sir Dinadan, Sir Sagramore and Sir Lionel, to engage him in a jousting match ("Then You May Take Me to the Fair"). Arthur (who has now become "best friends" with Lancelot), is dismayed by this; and at a loss to understand a woman's way ("How to Handle a Woman").

In the jousting match Lancelot easily defeats all three knights. He appears to kill the third, Lionel, with his jousting lance. But the dismay of the crowd turns to awe and adoration, as he "miraculously" restores the dead Sir Lionel to life, (due to his faith and purity). This adoration of the crowd extends to Guenevere, who is forced to re-evaluate her feelings about the passionate young knight ("Before I Gaze at You Again"). She is now deeply in love with Lancelot. Lancelot falls in love with Guenevere in turn, and is torn by the conflict between this love and his devotion to Arthur. Arthur makes Lancelot a Knight of the Round Table. Arthur is painfully aware of the feelings between Lancelot and Guenevere, but remains silent to preserve the tranquility of Camelot. He soliloquizes to his sword Excalibur, that they will all rise to the challenges they will all face, together.

Act II

Several years later, Guenevere and Lancelot are still tormented by their unfulfilled love. He finally reveals his feelings to 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 the knights’ training program, not knowing that Mordred is there to destroy the Round Table in revenge against Arthur for abandoning him ("Seven Deadly Virtues"). Arthur begins to feel the strain of ruling England, and both he and Guenevere wonder "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" without any such responsibilities. Morded, 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. By bribing her with sweets, he convinces her to build one of her invisible walls around Arthur for one night ("The Persuasion"). During this night, Mordred returns to the castle and provokes the knights to ally with him, promising that they will have fighting and pillaging as opposed to their current peaceful ways ("Fie on Goodness!"). Meanwhile, Lancelot visits Guenevere in her chambers, where she reveals her love for him and kisses him ("I Loved You Once in Silence"). 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; he is torn between upholding his law and doing his duty as a king, or sparing Guenevere (as Mordred insincerely urges him to do). At the last moment, Lancelot rescues her and takes her off with him to France. But in the process, Lancelot has been forced to kill some of the other knights, leaving some of the survivors vowing revenge.

For the sake of his own honor and that of Camelot, Arthur must now wage war against Lancelot at his castle Joyous Garde in France. 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. Guenevere has become a nun, and the Round Table is now obsolete. 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

Act I
  • "Overture" and "The March [Parade]"
  • "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight" (Arthur)
  • "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" (Guenevere)
  • "Camelot" (Arthur)
  • "Camelot" (reprise) (Arthur and Guenevere)
  • "Follow Me" (Nimue)
  • "C'est Moi" (Lancelot)
  • "The Lusty Month of May" (Guenevere and Company)
  • "Then You May Take Me To the Fair" (Guenevere, Sir Lionel, Sir Sagramore, and Sir Dinadan)
  • "How To Handle a Woman" (Arthur)
  • "The Jousts" (Arthur, Guenevere and Ensemble
  • "Before I Gaze at You Again" (Guenevere)


Act II
  • "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Lancelot)
  • "The Seven Deadly Virtues" (Mordred)
  • "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" (Arthur and Guenevere)
  • "Fie on Goodness!" (Mordred and The Knights)
  • "I Loved You Once In Silence" (Guenevere)
  • "Guenevere" (Company)
  • "Camelot" (reprise) (King Arthur)


Critical assessments

The New York critics' reviews of the original production were mixed. 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.'" 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." 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"

Awards and nominations

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

Year Chart Position
1961 Billboard Pop Albums (Billboard 200) (mono) 1


Notes

  1. Stempleski, Susan. Review of Camelot (classicalsource.com)
  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. Gussow, Mel. "'Camelot' Returns With Goulet as King" New York Times, June 22, 1993
  9. Information from Playbill.com
  10. Rogers, Madeline. "New York Philharmonic: A Night at the Round Table", Playbillarts.com, May 1, 2008
  11. Kantor and Maslon, p. 280
  12. Information from Bard College website
  13. New York Times, December 21, 1961
  14. Stempleski, Susan. Review of Camelot (classicalsource.com)
  15. Playbill news
  16. Notice for the 2007 Toronto tour stop
  17. 2008 Broadway.com article
  18. Siegel, Naomi. "A Melancholy 'Camelot,' With Plenty of Scenery and Costumes", New York Times, April 13, 2003
  19. Schwartz, Jonas. "Camelot", Theatre Mania, September 17, 2007


References



External links




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