The 1998 reiusse of the cast album “is digitally remastered and contains extensive liner notes, including copies of the original playbill, reviews, photos and an essay by Marc Kirkeby.” WR-C
Camelot cast album/ soundtrack
Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics)/ Frederick Loewe (music)
“One of the great Lerner & Loewe musicals, based on the King Arthur legend, specifically as adapted from T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King. The original 1960 production starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews and was “directed by Moss Hart and orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang.” WK-C It “ran on Broadway for 873 performances, winning four Tony Awards and spawning several revivals, foreign productions and a 1967 film version.” WK-C “The music is both a Broadway landmark and a delight. Highlights include the title song, How to Handle a Woman, and If Ever I Would Leave You (sung by Robert Goulet).” WR-C
Lerner and Hart decided in 1959 to adapt White’s book as their next project. 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” WK-C and even after its first tryout it ran too long. Lerner himself noted that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” WK-C
“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.” WK-C
“Camelot opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on December 3, 1960 and closed on January 5, 1963 after 873 performances.” WK-C “The advance sale for the show was the largest in Broadway history…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. It was also publicized, just after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (a classmate of Lerner at Harvard), that the show’s original cast recording had been favorite bedtime listening in the White House.” WK-C
“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 award-winning movie Gigi to the stage in 1973, and collaborated again the following year on the movie musical The Little Prince).” WK-C
“The New York critics’ reviews of the original production were mixed.” WK-C “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.’” WK-C
“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.” WK-C That same review said that the lyrics “never fail to dazzle with their virtuosity and wit” WK-C but that the book “is talky and dense.” WK-C
The Story and the Songs, Act I:
Nervous about meeting Guinevere, his fiancée by arranged marriage, Arthur has fled to the woods and sings I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight?. He hides when Guinevere enters the woods. She has her own doubts about giving up the more simple life to be Queen and sings Simply Joys of Maidenhood. Arthur, whose identity is still unknown to Guinevere, then persuades her of the joys of life in Camelot via the musical’s title song. Once she realizes who he is and that she has been charmed by him and his stories, she agrees to marry him.
Meanwhile, the water nymph Nimue has persuaded Arthur’s mentor, the wizard Merlin, “into her cave for an eternal sleep (Follow Me).” WK-C There he loses the power to see the future and does not know if he has warned Arthur about Lancelot and Mordred – the two men who will be the destruction of Camelot.
The story then jumps five years into the future and Arthur discusses with Guinevere the idea for a Round Table, a democratic system built around the idea of “a new kind of knight – one that does not pillage and fight, but tries to uphold honor and justice.” WC-C The word of Arthur’s renowned knights spreads as far as France, where “a young, pretentious and over-religious Frenchman named Lancelot du Lac…is determined to…join Arthur’s knights, confident that he is perfect for the post (C’est Moi).” WK-C
Guinevere organizes a May Day festival on the castle grounds (The Lusty Month of May), which is where she meets Lancelot. She dislikes him and, after he makes an enemy of most of the knights, Guinvere charges three of them to joust with Lancelot (Then You May Take Me to the Fair). Arthur is “at a loss to understand a woman’s way (How to Handle a Woman)” WK-C as he has become close friends with Lancelot.
Lancelot defeats all three knights and eventually wins the adoration of the crowd – and Guinevere. She realizes she is falling in love with him, but in her desire to stay true to her marriage vows, she wishes Lancelot would leave Camelot (Before I Gaze at You Again). Lancelot is also torn by devotion to Arthur and Guinvere, something which Arthur suspects, but hopes will dissipate.
The Story and the Songs, Act II:
Despite Guinvere’s attempts to get rid of Lancelot over several years’ time, he will not leave (If Ever I Would Leave You). She stays true to Arthur, though, even as she cannot escape her feelings for Lancelot. Arthur’s life becomes more complicated by the arrival of his illegitimate son Mordred. Angry over being abandoned by his father, Mordred is determined to destroy the ideal of Camelot and steal the throne. He sings of his detestment of knights (The Seven Deadly Virtues) and Arthur, who is feeling the strain of being the ruler of England, ponders a life where he and Guinevere would have no such responsibilities (What Do the Simple Folk Do?).
When the knights express how they “are bored with chivalry, and long for a life of fighting and pillaging (Fie on Goodness!),” WK-C Mordred seizes the opportunity to turn them against Arthur. Mordred and the knights catch Lancelot kissing Guinevere (I Loved You Once in Silence) and accuse the pair of treason. Lancelot escapes, but Guinevere is sentenced to burn at the stake (Guenevere). “Arthur, who has promoted the rule of law throughout the story, is now bound by his own law; he can make no special exceptions” WK-S for Guinevere. To Arthur’s relief, Lancelot returns to save her.
They return to France and Arthur, again trapped by the laws he is determined to uphold, must pursue as Lancelot has killed some of the knights, who have now sworn revenge. Meanwhile, Mordred takes up his own army against Camelot. “Before the final battle, Arthur meets Lancelot and Guenivere” WK-C and forgives them.
“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” WK-C and “gives him his orders - to run behind the lines and survive the battle, so he can tell future generations about the legend of Camelot. Watching Tom leave, Arthur regains his hope for the future” WK-S (Camelot (reprise)).
The Film and Its Soundtrack:
Prior to Camelot, the Lerner and Loewe team had huge success with My Fair Lady. The stage version in 1956 was followed by an eight-time Oscar-winning film in 1964. This left the film version of Camelot not only being compared to its stage predecessor, but the success of My Fair Lady, both on stage and in film.
Inevitably, the film adaptation fell short. The film’s official running time was 179 minutes, but the general release was carved down to 150 minutes. “There wasn’t time for half a dozen songs, which have been deleted, leaving the highlights.” WR-S
The cast of Richard Harris starring as Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero (with Gene Merlino doing the singing) as Lancelot would be “a considerable step down” WR-S from the original Broadway cast. “Harris is a much more demonstrative King Arthur than Burton, overplaying his role as if he's trying to be a royal Henry Higgins, as played by Rex Harrison (in My Fair Lady), on tracks such as ‘How to Handle a Woman’. Redgrave has the impossible task of replacing Andrews (who must not have been available to play Guenevere), and she doesn’t even come close; in fact, she can’t sing. Merlino sings Lancelot as a tenor. He has a good voice, but he’s not a patch on Goulet. The result is a mediocre soundtrack album that really doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the original broadway cast recording.” WR-S
The film is directed by Joshua Logan. The structure of the film is set up differently so that the main plot is presented as a flashback as Arthur reminisces about the circumstances which led him to where he is now – ready to battle against Lancelot.
The film won Academy Awards for Art/Set Direction, Costume Design, and Score. Notably, the film bears the distinction of being the only incident in which a song written originally for a Broadway show won a Golden Globe. WK-S Because the Aaward for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture was reserved for new material, “If Ever I Would Leave You” should have been ineligible as it originated in the stage version of Camelot, but an exception was made and it took home the prize. In addition, Richard Harrison won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.