The classic musical Camelot features a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, and music by Frederic Loewe. It is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White novel "The Once and Future King." It opened on Broadway on December 3, 1960 at the Majestic Theater, where it ran for 873 performances. The musical starring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews received four Tony Awards and the original cast recording was a top seller for over 60 weeks. A film version was released in 1967 starring Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. It was revived on Broadway in November of 1981 at the Winter Garden Theatre and broadcast on HBO later that year. It was revived again on Broadway in June of 1993 at the George Gershwin Theatre with Robert Goulet, who played Lancelot in the 1960 production, now playing King Arthur. On May 8, 2008, a semi-staged concert version of Camelot will be broadcast on PBS as part of the "Live From Lincoln Center" series.
Lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner was born in 1918 in New York City, the son of Joseph Jay Lerner, brother of the owner of the Lerner Stores, a chain of dress shops. Following graduation, Lerner wrote scripts for radio, including shows such as "Your Hit Parade" until 1942, when he was introduced to a down-on-his-heels Austrian composer named Frederick Loewe. Composer Frederick Loewe was born in 1910 in Berlin. His father Edmond was a noted Jewish operetta star. When his father was contracted to appear in New York, Frederick traveled there with him, determined to write for Broadway. He found work playing piano in German clubs, and in movie theaters as the accompanist for silent pictures. At the point at which he met Alan Jay Lerner he just happened to be looking for a lyricist for his next project.
Their first project together was a musical called Life of the Party. They next collaborated with Arthur Pierson on What's Up?, which opened on Broadway in 1943 and ran for 63 performances. They quickly became one of Broadway's most successful partnerships, and together gave us the memorable musicals Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot.
Lerner went on to collaborate successfully with Burton Lane on the musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, with Kurt Weill on the musical Love Life, and with Lane again on the movie musical Royal Wedding. Lerner also wrote the Oscar-winning original screenplay for An American in Paris. Loewe retired quietly to Palm Springs after winning two Tony Awards. Lerner went through a series of unsuccessful musical collaborations such as Coco, Lolita, My Love, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Carmelina and Dance a Little Closer before retiring with three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards among his many honors.
In the mythical Kingdom of Camelot, amidst the chase of his wife, Queen Guinevere, and closest friend, Sir Lancelot, both of whom stand accused of treason, King Arthur cries out to his guide Merlyn for advice. Merlyn is a wizard, lives backwards in time and remembers the future as well as the past. Merlyn asks Arthur to think back to the moment when it all began. We are taken back to a time when young Arthur created his destiny by fulfilling a prophecy, and he pulled the sword Excalibur out of the stone to become King.
King Arthur, now a young man, is to marry an even younger Lady Guinevere. The union is one born of a design for peace between their kingdoms, but is blessed by love as well in time. Inspired by the wisdom of Merlyn's teachings of peace and brotherhood, Arthur creates the order of the Knights of the Round Table. As the years pass, the news of this group of chivalrous knights who fight for right brings a young Lancelot from France to Camelot. The handsome, pure and virtuous Lancelot seems without flaw. Many, including Guinevere, take an instant dislike to the cocky young man. Guinevere therefore persuades three of the best Knights of the Round Table to engage him in a jousting match in order to tame his perceived ego. Lancelot easily defeats all three knights, while accidentally killing the third. Lancelot then silently calls upon God, and miraculously restores the mortally wounded knight to life.
Lancelot is knighted and wins the hearts of all, including Guinevere. He falls in love with Guinevere, but she is his Queen, and he is torn by his devotion to Arthur. She in turn is tormented by the deepening of her feelings for a man not her husband and King. Though Arthur is sadly aware of the feelings between Lancelot and Guinevere, he remains silent to preserve Camelot, and Lancelot and Guinevere go on believing he knows nothing of their love. Years pass with the love between Lancelot and Guinevere unfulfilled and unacted upon, and Arthur bound by his duty.
Arthur's illegitimate son from his youth, Mordred, comes to Camelot to visit with plans to destroy the Knights of the Round Table. Mordred causes discontentment among the knights and lays in wait to catch Guinever and Lancelot alone in a moment in her private chambers. Mordred accuses them of treason against the King. Lancelot is imprisoned, and Guinevere is to be burned at the stake. Lancelot escapes and takes Guinevere with him. It is at this moment that our play has begun. Whatever choices Arthur now makes, his beloved Camelot will be forever changed.
Those of you who have seen past productions or the film will note changes to the script in this production. The national tour of Camelot features changes to the libretto by Alan Jay Lerner's son, Michael Lerner. The character of Morgan Le Fey has been eliminated, the songs "Fie On Goodness" and "The Persuasion" have been removed, and the order of some songs has been changed to redirect the flow of the script. The removal of "Fie On Goodness" is regrettable as the scene demonstrates a change in the sentiments and motivations of the Knights of the Round Table. Without it, Mordred's manipulation of the situation at hand seems less plausible.
Lou Diamond Phillips as Arthur is considerably younger than most actors playing the role. Using the first scene to send us back in time makes a younger actor more palatable. After all, we must see him as vibrant and youthful in some portions of the tale. The role certainly sits less taxingly on the shoulders of someone a bit younger. This production also deftly uses as much comedy as it can to lighten what can be a tiresomely lengthy show. Phillips is an approachable King Arthur with a sense of humor as well as a sense of honor. His singing voice is less developed than expected, but his acting carries him through the role nicely, and it is one he can play for years to come.
While audiences are accustomed to a Guinevere younger than Arthur, Rachel de Benedet is probably the same age as Phillips. Seemingly in an attempt to play the youthfulness of her character in her first scene, she creates a Guinevere that is nearly a ninny in "Simple Joys of Maidenhood." Thankfully, she rescues herself and the character by the end of the first act when she becomes the womanly Guinevere. From there on her performance is lovely. Matt Bogart is wonderful as Lancelot. He maintains the French accent of the character throughout, and sings with a welcomed richness. The best musical moment in the show is his performance of "If Ever I Would Leave You." Time Winters is also most enjoyable as the old Pellinore.
Mordred is played as smilingly foppish rather than intellectually slimy by Shannon Stoeke. He breezes through the role a bit too blithely, and his performance of the song "The Seven Deadly Virtues," which is an acting plum, seems to be all about tossing and flicking his cape. This number is sometimes cut from productions, and it is lamentable to see it included and not done justice.
This is by nature a lengthy script, and the actors and director have done a good job with pacing to help it go by quickly without losing our interest. Though the production value of this Camelot is sound, this is a lovely show deserving of more attention to production value through the richness of color and detail, and the element of fantasy one would expect from a national tour of this calibre.
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This production of Camelot is scheduled to appear April 15 - April 20, 2008 at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. The Kravis Center is located at 701 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach, FL. For information on their season, you may contact them at 561-832-7469 (561-832-SHOW) or 1-800-572-8471 (1-800-KRAVIS-1) or online at www.kravis.org. Tickets are also available through Ticketmaster at Ticketmaster outlets, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.
The actors and stage managers in this production are members of Actor's Equity Association, the union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.