"Camelot" Review - Broadway musical
Camelot has the distinction of being one of the two cast albums I owned as a child (the other was My Fair Lady). I have a vague memory of performing with a bunch of other kids to "The Lusty Month of May," though I'm damned if I can remember why or where; it was probably when I attended Day Camp at the Toledo Jewish Community Center in the early 1970s. I also remember staring at the album some years later; it had been relegated to the basement (basement = unwanted) because I found one of the songs creepy--probably "Parade." (I also felt that way about the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," which suggests I was overly sensitive as a kid.)
Needless to say, I no longer find anything about the album creepy. I wouldn't call it one of my favorites, but long familiarity has made me fond of it. Some of the songs are really beautiful ("I Loved You Once in Silence," "If Ever I Would Leave You"); most of the others are "pleasant nonentities," good background music. The closest things to showstoppers are "C'est Moi" and "Fie on Goodness," the latter being the only truly lively song in the musical. Some of the songs ("Then You May Take Me to the Fair" and "Seven Deadly Virtues") are fun but would be more enjoyable if they didn't contain some cringe-inducing lyrics. The rest of the lyrics aren't nearly that bad, though there are more low points than I'd like.
"Guenevere" is the ultimate "passive voice" song, with the company singing about how Lancelot rescued Guenevere. It makes for a terrible penultimate number--it was a kind of compromise song, as the show was way too long in previews; they cut the rescue scene and threw in this "look-what's-going-on-offstage" tune to cover themselves. If they'd cut or altered some of Guenevere's pointless early songs, they probably could have had some decent onstage action, but of course they had to feed their best singer and biggest Broadway name as much as she could handle.
The book is generally considered to be bad, with the first act being fun and the second act preachy, and with the Arthurian mythology hopelessly confused. Luckily, we don't have to suffer through it via the CD!
The ending... well, call me a cynic, but given how Camelot collapsed into total chaos over something as simple as the queen's unfaithfulness, how much good was it, that it should be remembered? (I'm now thinking of the Clinton/Lewinsky nonsense, which hardly brought the US down; but then, maybe we're too jaded these days to be torn apart over some screwing around. Or perhaps the real message is, a desirable Camelot can survive internal as well as external challenges.) But I shouldn't impress a 2000 viewpoint on a 1960s product.
Not having the book at hand, I can only guess at some things. It seems to me that Mordred was brought in awfully late. (Mark Kirkeby, who wrote the booklet for the remastered version of the CD, agrees that Mordred arrives "rather late in the evening.") Did they even bother with personalities for most of the knights? Why introduce Merlin only to get rid of him almost immediately?
Release date: 1960.
Type: Broadway musical.
For one brief, shining moment, there was a place known as Camelot--and this 1961 recording is the only document available of JFK's favorite musical, the one that's been used to describe his presidential administration ever since. Truthfully, Lerner and Loewe's musical score for this retelling of the King Arthur story doesn't measure up to My Fair Lady, which was still playing when Camelot opened on December 3, 1960. That being said, the three principals here were stronger musically than their 1968 film counterparts--Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet (who became a star as Lancelot, thanks to "If Ever I Would Leave You") could sing, while the pre-Liz Richard Burton could recite those great lines with Shakespearean flair, even if he never scored a hit with "MacArthur Park."