Well, here is a gem of Broadway that I purchased for $4. I posted the movie soundtrack I believe in February of last year during my salute to the Oscars. On some levels, I found it quite silly on the surface to have a great classical Shakespearean actor like Richard Burton singing about Camelot. However, I believe his participation in this production helped hold it together at critical moments to become the success it was. Also, it is no sillier than Richard Harris in the movie.
Camelot was the follow up musical for the team of Lerner and Lowe, fresh off their success with My Fair Lady. The duo had some success earlier with Brigadoon and Paint Your Wagon. With music by the Austrian-American Frederick Lowe and book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, the musical was based off T.H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King.
Expectations were high after MFL, and Lowe threatened to make this his last work if it were not successful. The show as a bit rough around the edges but seemed to improve in part tp the strong cast which featured Burton, the breakout star of MFL, Julie Andrews, and Roddy McDowell among others.
An early out of town premier ran for over four hours, leading Noel Coward to remark that it was “longer than Gotterdammerung …… and not nearly as funny”. There is another funny antidote about Andrews being given the song “Before I Gaze At You Again'” just before a preview leading Andrews to quip “Of course, darling, but do try to get it to me the night before.” Personal problems also came from every direction, including Lerner’s wife leaving him and director Moss Hart’s heart attack. Throughout the ordeals, I am told by Wikapedia that Burton held the production together and calmed the fears and anxieties of the other actors.
Initial reviews of the previews were mixed but thanks to television and Ed Sullivan, the cast of the show got to make their case to the American public. Sullivan had asked Lerner and Lowe to help celebrate the 5 year anniversary of MFL. The duo decided instead to focus on Camelot, performing 4 songs from the show. Not only did this boost word of mouth and drive pre-sale tickets.
It also made a star out of Canadian Robert Goulet, who as Sir Lancelot, made his Broadway debut with this. As a result, “If I Ever Leave You” became his signature song.
Camelot opened on December 3rd, 1960. It ran for 873 performances and spawned the 1967 movie which as mentioned above has been on this blog. Furthermore, it won 4 Tonys in 1961 including Best Actor in a Musical for Burton. And although critics were initially mixed, the work has seemed to grow in stature over the years. Several revivals have been staged and the songs still remain popular.
This album, itself was hugely popular at the time, being a #1 record in the US and the top selling for 60 weeks. This is back when Broadway music was American pop music(All this, we shall see, will change in three years).Despite this success, the hardships suffered proved to be too much for Lerner and Lowe as this was their last major collaboration other than the stage adaption of their film Gigi and the film, The Little Prince. Coincidentally, the director Hart died of another heart attack in 1961, making this his last work as well.
Having gone to Harvard with Lerner, John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of the work and claimed to listen the album at bedtime quite frequently. His favorite line was the one at the end where a haggard King Arthur tells a young boy “Don’t let it be forgot, That once there was a spot, For one brief, shining moment , That was known as Camelot “. As a result, Kennedy’s administration gained the Camelot moniker.
The album itself is pretty good and features some great performances by the principles. Obviously Andrews and Goulet are among the talented singers, but the numbers by Burton and McDowell are not bad either.
For a sample, I decided to go with what I thought was a quintessential Andrews-type song ” Then You May Take Me To The Fair”. Then I thought , what makes this a quintessential Andrews song other than the fact that she sings it? Well, for me, I guess that is all it takes. Anyway, this song was cut from the original production after around a month or so. Here is Andrews as a conniving Queen Guinevere, enlisting knights to destroy Sir Lancelot, for whom she does not know she is in love with yet. Oddly enough it appeared on the film version. I also went with what is perhaps the climax number, “Guinevere”.
Really great little album. Satisfactory.