CAMELOT

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Book & Lyrics by

ALAN JAY LERNER

Music by

FREDERICK LOEWE

Staged by

MOSS HART
First produced at the Majestic Theatre on December 3, 1960, with Richard Burton as "Arthur", Julie Andrews as "Guenevere" and Robert Goulet as "Lancelot".

Camelot is a setting of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The play opens with the arrival of Guenevere in Camelot. Come to marry Arthur, she is greeted festively by the Court. Arthur himself, who is both shy and nervous, is not present. He is hiding in the nearby woods ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?"). Guenevere has come to the woods, having slipped away from the ceremony. She is uncertain about herself and her future ("Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). She stumbles into Arthur without knowing he is her future husband. After telling her about life in Camelot ("Camelot"), Arthur discloses his identity. Since they are both immediately charmed with the other, they are delighted at the thought of becoming husband and wife.

In his palace in Camelot Arthur learns from Merlyn the wisdom of peace and brotherhood, and thus is inspired to establish the Round Table. The news of this reaches young Lancelot in France, who is determined to come to Camelot and join Arthur's knights ("C'est Moi"). After he arrives, a gala outing takes place on the castle grounds ("The Lusty Month of May"), where Arthur introduces his wife to Lancelot. Guenevere takes an instant dislike to this cocky young fellow and instigates him to engage three knights of the Round Table in a jousting match ("Then You May Take Me to the Fair"). In vain does Arthur try to dissuade Guenevere from taking sides against Lancelot, and failing to do so, is completely at a loss to understand a woman's way ("How to Handle a Woman").

In the jousting match Lancelot handily defeats all three knights, to the amazement of his onlookers, and to the growing admiration of Guenevere. Lancelot meanwhile has fallen in love with the Queen. Torn by inner conflict between this love and his devotion to Arthur, he asks permission to leave Camelot for foreign conquests. He comes back to Camelot two years later, and in an impressive ceremony Arthur now makes him a Knight of the Round Table. Arthur is not unaware that Lancelot is still in love with Guenevere, nor has he failed to notice that by now his queen is strongly attracted to the young, handsome knight. Yet he must remain silent, for not to do so would be to disturb the tranquility of Camelot. Meanwhile, Lancelot reveals to Guenevere his tender feelings for her ("If Ever I Would Leave You"). Guenevere is responsive. Nevertheless, she remains faithful to Arthur, and is his helpmate in carrying on the affairs of State ("What Do Simple Folks Do").

Mordred, Arthur's illegitimate son, now comes to Camelot to dishonour the King and thus gain the throne for himself. He prevails on his sorceress-aunt, Morgan le Fey, to trap Arthur in a forest one night. While Arthur is gone, Lancelot visits Guenevere in her chambers, where she breaks down and tells Lancelot how much she loves him ("I Loved You Once in Silence"). Mordred bursts into the room with some of the Knights of the Round Table to accuse Lancelot of treachery and to imprison him. Lancelot succeeds in escaping from prison, but Guenevere is sentenced to burn. At the zero hour, however, she is saved by Lancelot, who takes her off with him to France.

For the sake of his own honour and that of Camelot, Arthur must now wage war on France. Just before the final battle he meets Lancelot and Guenevere, and forgives them both. But the war must go on. In camp, Arthur meets a young stowaway who wants to join the Round Table. Arthur knights him on the field of battle and sends him back to England to grow up there and carry on for another generation the ideals of Camelot.

As the immediate successor of My Fair Lady -- and with so many of the collaborators who had made My Fair Lady an unforgettable stage experience -- a good deal was expected of Camelot when it arrived on Broadway. It achieved the unprecedented advance sales of three and a half million dollars, and forthwith was sold to the motion pictures for three million dollars more. But while Camelot was no My Fair Lady -- and thus aroused a good measure of disappointment among the critics -- it was nevertheless a musical play with many moments of enchantment and with some of the most handsomely mounted sets Broadway had seen in many a year.

Camelot was director Moss Hart's farewell to the theatre. He died of a heart attack in Palm Springs, California, early in 1962.

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This document was originally published in The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 900-1.

FURTHER STUDIES:

  • Brigadoon - A synopsis of the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
  • My Fair Lady - A synopsis and brief history of the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
  • Camelot - A brief history of the musical.
  • Purchase Sheet Music from all your favorite musicals!
  • Search eBay! for CAMELOT collectibles

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