Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A Shining Moment Known as Camelot

If you’re from the New York City region who’s been watching ads on television lately, or leafing through the Arts section of your newspaper, you no doubt have come across promotions for a new staging of Lerner & Loewe’s musical “Camelot.” Opening night was scheduled for Thursday.

Though Camelot is one of my favorite musicals, I won’t be going to the premiere. Not to worry. Whereas I do not recognize the names of any current cast members, I am content with my memories of the original Broadway ensemble that I saw perform at the Majestic Theatre. They included Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere,  and Robert Goulet, making his Broadway debut, as Sir Lancelot. Supporting cast included Roddy McDowell, Robert Coote and John Cullum. 

For those not immersed in show business trivia, Burton was a respected British (Welsh, actually) actor who had never sung in a musical. He was several years away from international acclaim for his role in the movie “Cleopatra” and for his torrid years-long relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, his “Cleopatra” co-star. Andrews, meanwhile, bowled over Broadway four and a half years earlier as the original Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Subsequent to being replaced by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza in the movie adaptation, she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mary Poppins, before conquering the Von Trapps and evading Nazis in the celluloid version of “The Sound of Music.” 

I must have seen Camelot early in 1961 because I recall seeing two songs that were cut from the production a few months into the run to shorten the length of the play. I found both up-tempo songs to be exciting in their advancement of the plot, namely Guenevere’s attempt to stifle her infatuation with Lancelot by having other knights engage him in man to man combat (“Then You May Take Me To the Fair”), and the mounting frustration of the Knights of the Round Table with their sedentary, good-mannered life (“Fie on Goodness”). 

Some 30 years later Gilda and I attended a revival of Camelot with a then much older Goulet playing King Arthur. He was good, but not as good as Burton.