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Camelot – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1960

Camelot – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1960

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Synopsis

What other music has defined its time? In 1998 – 35 years after Camelot ended its first Broadway run – as in 1963, this last of the Lerner & Loewe spectaculars endures as our public shorthand for the early sixties in America and the brief, doomed administration of President John F. Kennedy. Even as the Kennedy legend crumbles – most recently in a bestselling book called, of course, The Dark Side Of Camelot – the King Arthur comparisons seem to resonate more and more. Idealism brought down by human weakness: truly a story for the Ages, Middle and Modern alike. Ultimately it’s the music, though, not the Kennedy connection and not the spectacle, that has kept Camelot alive. Listening to this original cast CD, you can enjoy Julie Andrews in her biggest (and last, for three decades) Broadway starring role. You can hear the original of the song that made Robert Goulet a star. You can savor Richard Burton, one of the era’s most memorable Hollywood leading men, in his only Broadway musical turn – and his final project before Liz got him. Gone, sadly, are the costumes and sets that made this the most expensive production Broadway had seen, and carried the day with a lot of the critics. Gone, too, less sadly, is the ton and a half of “book” (no-music) scenes, that stretched Camelot out to more than three hours and left many in the audience craving a large flagon of mead. Indeed, the creative team – composer Frederick Loewe, author; lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, and director Moss Hart – appears never to have quite decided how to handle this material. They bought the rights to The Once And Future King; T.H. White’s popular retelling of the Arthur stories, then more or less ignored it. Act I is satirical, Act II somber and preachy. Critics and ticket-buyers came away dazzled but confused. Camelot had to follow My Fair Lady, the Lerner-Loewe-Hart (and Andrews) mega-hit that was still playing, and playing, a few blocks away. Comparisons were inevitable. Burton talk-sings much as Rex Harrison had done. Robert Coote reprises his affable-sidekick role. “If Ever I Would Leave You” echoes “On The Street Where You Live.” “Camelot” echoes . . . well, Brigadoon, actually, an earlier L&L work. Still, every show should have such problems. On the strength of MFL, and of the names Julie Andrews and Richard Burton (who was best known to film audiences as the hero of such costume epics as The Robe and Alexander The Great), Camelot’s advance sale topped three million dollars. They went to Toronto for tryouts – not least because Robert Goulet (from Lawrence, Massachusetts) had recently been the star of his own Canadian TV variety series – full of hopes of another giant hit. . . . . . . And this is why actors are superstitious. First Lerner succumbed to the pressure, in the form of a bleeding ulcer that hospitalized him. The day before he was due to check out, Hart suffered a heart attack. Lerner replaced him (without credit) as director. By the time they got to New York, Hart had returned, barely, vowing this would be his last musical (as in fact it was: he did not survive a second heart attack a year later.) The reviewers, after the December 3, 1960 Broadway opening, were already wondering what all this might mean, but the tone of the notices was mostly favorable for all that. Howard Taubman of the New York Times called it “a partly enchanted city . . . never less than a thing of beauty . . . unfortunately weighed down by the burden of its book.” John Chapman of the Daily News thought it was “the most beautiful big show I have ever seen . . . (Lerner’s) lyrics are polished but never brashly slick. Loewe’s music almost bursts with melody and is cunningly varied . . . I have a hunch this is the finest score he has written.” Most agreed (!) that the beginning was better than the ending, and that the performances of the three leads rose above some wooden characterization in the script. (The reviewer for the Wall Street Journal thought Goulet had a “Kennedy-like mop of hair.”) Julie Andrews, perhaps in a demonstration of team spirit, pronounced the show better than My Fair Lady. Burton, strangely, got little attention from the critics compared with his co-stars and the sets and costumes, but he turned out to be the show’s only major Tony Award® winner (Franz Allers’s musical direction also won). Camelot itself proved to be a solid crowd-pleaser, building on that huge advance – and some dazzling national airtime on the Ed Sullivan Show – to enjoy a two-year run of nearly 900 performances. Burton left first, in the fall of ’61, to take the part of Marc Anthony in the new film of Cleopatra, also beginning the romance with Elizabeth Taylor that would, for better and worse, define the rest of his career. (In the it’s-a-small-empire department, the film also starred Rex Harrison, and Roddy McDowall got to reprise his pipsqueak-villain turn from Camelot.) Julie Andrews stayed longer, confirming her place as Queen of Broadway, and then, famously, didn’t come back, choosing Hollywood (Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music, and later the films of her husband, director Blake Edwards) until lured back to New York by the stage version of Edwards’s Victor/Victoria in the 1990s. Robert Goulet also went west, to stardom in television and concerts and a lot of road-show Broadway, the apotheosis of the square-jawed leading man. There was a successful London production, starring Laurence Harvey. The 1967 Josh Logan film, with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave, is slumbering more deeply than Merlin, and if we tiptoe away quietly, maybe it won’t wake up. In the summer of 1980, Richard Burton – now post-Liz, and in failing health – made a brief, poignant return to Camelot and Broadway, but had to give way to Harris, again, for the balance of the tour. Now, forward into battle: If anyone cares, there probably was a historical British King Arthur, in the post-Roman Empire chaos of circa 400 A.D., but Lancelot and Guenevere and the roots of this story all belong to French romance of the much-later Middle Ages. The T.H. White book, written in the deepening shadows of the 1930s, gives the Arthurian legends a rueful spin, one fading empire looking back at another. Alan Jay Lerner spins the story yet again, creating a most modern Arthur, self-doubting, ironic, and determined to introduce democracy, which had as much place in the Middle Ages as Spam. Arthur’s dream is to bring together the finest knights of his day, to form not just an army but a sort of United Nations of the chain-mail set, who will sit at a round table at which every place will be equal. They will establish rule of law. Life will be not only civilized but civil. Too, the King must have a Queen, an arranged marriage with an important ally in France. As the curtain rises, Arthur (Richard Burton) is alone, awaiting the arrival of this woman he has never met. The answer, we learn, to the question, I Wonder What The King Is Doing Tonight, is: worrying, nervous as any bridegroom. Just as nervous is Guenevere (Julie Andrews), who ducks her welcoming committee and, also alone, has doubts about this affair of state and regrets about missing the romantic courtship of her dreams – The Simple Joys of Maidenhood. Both now incognito, Arthur and Guenevere of course meet by accident, and he, playing tour-guide, introduces her to the no-doubt-exaggerated virtues of her new home town: Camelot. Those three songs may be regarded as Camelot’s first face, a light, semi-satirical gloss on history and legend. Next we move to what might be called the fantasy face: Arthur’s adviser from childhood has been the magician Merlin, but fate decrees that Arthur must face these new challenges alone. So Merlin must be seduced, and imprisoned, by a nymph called Nimue (Mary Sue Berry); she lures him away with the lovely Follow Me. (Berry was in fact the understudy for Nimue, and took over for this recording session only when Marjorie Smith, apparently ill, could not continue.) The Round Table is established; knights draw near. Noblest of all is a French hero, Lancelot du Lac (Robert Goulet), who arrives at court with all the humility of an anchorman – C’est Moi. (Indeed, Lerner has written Lancelot as unlovable, and we’re left to think that Guenevere falls for a movie star.) Lancelot meets his peers, and his Queen, at a sort of Camelot company picnic – The Lusty Month Of May. No one can stand him, least of all Guenevere, who makes fun of him, and some other swooning admirers – Then You May Take Me To The Fair. There is a jousting competition which sets all of the Round Table against Lancelot. Arthur tries and fails to persuade his wife not to take sides . . . against Lancelot. Arthur is left wondering How To Handle A Woman. Lancelot wins all the jousts, but more important he reveals qualities of chivalric purity and faith that gradually make him the most admired of the knights. At the same time, he is falling in love with Guenevere, despite his loyalty to Arthur. Rather than reveal his feelings, Lancelot asks his king for permission to leave on a quest, which Arthur reluctantly grants. As Lancelot goes, Guenevere begins to understand her own feelings for him – Before I Gaze At You Again. Two years pass. Lancelot returns, Arthur invests him with full knighthood. Seeing Guenevere again, however, rekindles Lancelot’s emotions, which he now must confess to her (If Ever I Would Leave You, the show’s most lasting hit). Lancelot and Guenevere hide their love, but Arthur knows the truth, which he must deny in order to keep peace in Camelot. Now, rather late in the evening, we meet the villain, and the catalyst for Camelot’s downfall: Mordred (Roddy McDowall), Arthur’s illegitimate son by a sorceress, arrives at court looking to cause trouble. Mordred doesn’t want to reconcile with his father, he wants to replace him, and makes it clear he despises Arthur’s ideals – The Seven Deadly Virtues. Faced with this challenge, Arthur’s depression seems to deepen. Guenevere, still faithful, tries to rally his spirits – What Do the Simple Folk Do? But things are unravelling. The knights, unused to peace and harmony, yearn for battle and heroic deeds – Fie On Goodness! Mordred connives to dispatch Arthur to an enchanted forest, where the king is briefly waylaid by the sorceress Morgan Le Fey (Mordred’s mom, wouldn’t you know). In his absence, Lancelot visits Guenevere in her chamber – Camelot is pretty queasy about the whole adultery thing, but we get the picture – and she finally confesses her feelings for him – I Loved You Once In Silence. All according to plan, Mordred and some knights take them by surprise, and the bubble bursts. Guenevere now covers a lot of exposition: Lancelot escapes. Arthur returns, to find his queen on trial for treason – according to the laws that Arthur himself has worked so hard to put in place. Convicted, she is sentenced to burn at the stake. Arthur, helpless to prevent the verdict, can nonetheless arrange things so that Lancelot and a band of renegade knights can burst in and rescue her at the crucial moment. The lovers, and their loyalists, escape to France. His Round Table broken, Arthur must now make war on his friend. Just before the final battle – which will kill Arthur, Mordred, and many of the knights, and send Guenevere and Lancelot into (separate) religious orders, although none of those events figures in this show – Arthur meets Guenevere and Lancelot and, true to his ideals, forgives them. Alone once again, Arthur discovers a boy, hiding, who says he wants to join the Round Table. Arthur knights him but keeps him from the fight, sending him home to tell future generations about what Arthur tried to achieve (Camelot – Reprise), with the verse that everyone knew after President Kennedy’s death: Don’t let it be forgot That once there was a spot For one brief shining moment That was known as Camelot. We have not forgot. – Mark Kirkeby

Credits

Sir Dinadan: John Cullum Sir Lionel: Bruce Yarnell Merlyn: David Hurst Arthur: Richard Burton Guenevere: Julie Andrews Nimue: Marjorie Smith Lancelot: Robert Goulet Mordred: Roddy McDowall A Page: Leland Mayforth Squire Dap: Michael Clarke-Laurence Pelhnore: Robert Coote Sir Sagramore: James Gannon A Page: Peter De Vise Herald: John Starkweather Lady Catherine: Virginia Allen Clarius: Richard Kuch Lady Anne: Christina Gillespie Lady Sybil: Leesa Troy Sir Ozanna: Michael Kermoyan Sir Gwilliam: Jack Daboub Morgan Le Fey: Me’l Dowd Tom: Robin Stewart Knights and Ladies: Joan August, Mary Sue Berry, Marnell Bruce, Judy Hastings, Benita James, Marjorie Smith, Shelia Swenson, Leesa Troy, Dorothy White, Frank Bouley, Jack Dabdoub, James Gannon, Murray Goldkind, Warren Hays, Paul Huddleston, Michael Kermoyan, Donald Maloof, Larry Mitchell, Paul Richards, John Taliaferro. Musical Director: Franz Allers