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The MHS Review 398 VOL. 12, NO.2 • 1988

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Robert Maxwell Stern


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While My Fair Lady was still playing to SRO audiences on Broadway, Camelot was being composed, nurtured, and readied for production. No show until that time had been more eagerly anticipated than was Camelot. In My Fair Lady, librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe created a tough--impossible, rather--act to follow; the press, public, and Broadway wags were cenain to judge Camelot bas­ed on the unusually high standards set by the previous musical.

In order to assure success, they decided to follow the same formula for Camelot that was used for My Fair Lady: In both productions Julie Andrews was used as the ingenue, Roben Coote appeared in a sup­porting comic role, Moss Hart directed, Oliver Smith designed the sets, Hanya Holm choreographed, Robert Russell Ben­nett created the orchestrations, and Franz Allers conducted the orchestra. Also in both, the male leads were cast using actors who were well known chiefly for dramatic roles and were singers of limited means, i.e. Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and Richard Burton in Camelot. Be all of this as it may have been, the use of this alleged­ly surefire recipe for Camelot made observers' comparisons even more harsh.

Camelot had the largest budget ever af­forded a Broadway show, an advance sale which exceeded S3,500,000, and more press hype than had been given a pending opening to that date. To compound the ex­citement, a series of unfortunate cir­cumstances preceded the opening. While the score was being polished, volatile arguments broke out between the com­poser and librettist, with the result that Camelot was to be the final collaboration between Lerner and Loewe. Director Moss Han suffered a heart attack during the out­-of-town tryouts; this was to be his final production. Lyricist-librettist Alan Jay Lerner was hospitalized for bleeding ulcers. The costume designer died, and the second act remained in rewrite down to the week of opening.

Another problem was the story line. T.H. White's account of the Arthurian legend, The Once and Future King, upon which Camelot's libretto is based, is an enormous three-volume tome which covers the life of King Arthur from boyhood to death and contains at least 100 episodic tales with diversities which go from matters of state to witchcraft and courtly love to falconry. Somewhere in there, to be sure, was a cen­tral story; but where to concentrate was certainly a dilemma. The end result was a rather disseminated story line which tried very hard to stick to the subject of Arthur's saintly attitude toward his wife's in­fidelities but did not quite hold. Word in Schuben Alley was that The Once and Future King was truly no Pygmalion. All of this notwithstanding, Camelot ran a most respectable 873 performances after opening on December 3, 1960.

The Camelot score, however, exists as one of the great works of the American musical theater. Loewe, a student of Fer­rucio Busoni, wrote fetching melodies which sing of romance and Utopia. The lyrics are finely crafted, clever, and at times touching: "Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot for happ'ly ever aftering known as Camelot." In current times of cheap lyrics and non-melodies, electronic instruments and filthy innuendi, lip­synching performers and plots which are concerned with the romantic affairs bet­ween two railroad cars (!), it is amazing that at one time a show like Camelot could possibly have problems.

Camelot's greatest successes were achieved after its two-year run at New York's Majestic Theater; road and touring companies were sent nation-and worldwide, the rights for film production fetched in the neighborhood of S3,000,000, and Camelot made for a powerful box-office attraction. In 1982 it was revived on Broadway starring Richard Harris, who had replaced Richard Burton in the original run and starred in the mo­tion picture as well. It is Harris who ap­pears on this lovely MHS offering, a souvenir of the 1982 London production. The performances here by Harris, Fiona Fullerton, Robert Meadmore, and cast are veddy British and most attractive and cap­tivating. Please, don't let it be forgot that composers used to jot musicals of graceful style, for instance Camelot.

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