Most of the top titles from Broadway’s Golden Age were revived over the past decade or so, with one exception: “Camelot.”
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 musical about King Arthur last played Broadway in 1993, one stop on a national tour starring Robert Goulet.
Producers tried to bring it back a couple of times, but revivals never materialized. Part of the problem is that, for all its lovely tunes, the script is unwieldy and lacks the wit of “My Fair Lady.”
But the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, just mounted a streamlined revival that’s getting nice reviews from critics and prominent political figures.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer caught a recent performance and joined in the enthusiastic standing ovation. Another justice, the opera-loving Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also seemed to enjoy it. And Rudy Giuliani managed to squeeze in a performance with one of his lady friends.
Peter Marks’ warm endorsement in the Washington Post (an “altogether pleasurable” revival) sent some New York agents, theater owners and producers down to DC to check it out.
“Absolutely charming — and the surprise ending brought a tear to my eye,” one of them tells me. “This would be perfect at a smaller theater like the Booth or the Lyceum.”
I’m not going to give away the surprise, but even Marks admitted he “kind of lost it” during the final scene.
The production features a cast of unknowns. Only Alexandra Silber, as Guenevere, has Broadway credits: She was an outstanding Tzeitel in the latest (2015) revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The New York crowd loved her. They also praised Ken Clark as Arthur and Nick Fitzer as Lancelot. (“I don’t even know if he has an agent,” a source says of Fitzer, “but he has one of the most stunning voices I have ever heard.”)
All three leads are about the same age — and attractive — so the love triangle is pretty steamy. Meanwhile, Patrick Vaill makes an especially nasty Mordred.
Director Alan Paul cut out dull patches of the script and dispensed with some seemingly pointless scenes.
The original 1960 production had a rocky out-of-town tryout in Toronto. The first performance ran four and a half hours.
Broadway insiders came to see what the team behind “My Fair Lady” had come up with. Not a hit, that’s for sure.
Lerner famously quipped: “Not since Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first failure had I seen so many smiling faces.” A few days later, he was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer.
Director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack before he had time to cut the show. Richard Burton and Julie Andrews held the company together, but for most of its Toronto run, “Camelot” was without a leader.
The show opened in New York with a then-unheard-of advance of $3 million. But the reviews weren’t good, and ticket sales plunged.
And then the miracle: Ed Sullivan did a salute to Lerner and Loewe on his television show, which reached everyone in America with a TV. Robert Goulet sang “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Andrews performed “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood.” And Burton sang the title song.
Lerner got a call from the Majestic Theatre manager the next morning.
“You’d better come down here,” he said. “There are lines outside the theater.”
“Camelot” ran three years.
The new version is doing nicely in DC. It set a box-office record at the theater last week, and the run has been extended.
Word of mouth at the Supreme Court is so strong, the theater is, I’m told, expecting more visits from justices.
I’m enjoying comedian and actress Marilyn Michaels’ memoir, “How Not To Cook for the Rest of Your Life.”
Michaels landed the role of Fanny Brice in the national tour of “Funny Girl” in 1965. She became pals with Barbra Streisand, who originated the part on Broadway. But during a joint interview, Streisand bristled when the reporter aimed his questions at Michaels because her answers made him laugh.
“That short-circuited our budding friendship real quick!” Michaels writes.
Her memoir is breezy and funny — a good summer showbiz read.
You can hear Michael Riedel every weekday morning on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on 710 WOR radio.
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