The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: Beauty & the Beast

Sunday, March 24, 2013


October 25, 1967   Warners   180 minutes
I may be an Anglophile, but I've always been immune to the charms of certain bedrock British institutions like Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and the whole fantasy universe of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The first two were done no favors by the musicals Baker Street and Lionel Bart's Twang! But Camelot has an emotional hold on many that few musicals ever achieve. Just not on me. But I am older now, and willing to exam the matter with some openness and patience. So, take me away, you Medieval sylvan fantasia . . . Show me the magic.

Lerner & Loewe skirted the follow-up hurdle after My Fair Lady by going Hlwd with Gigi. But eventually they faced The Big Street again, settling on Arthurian lore as a fitting volume to their catalog. They certainly didn't lessen the pressure of great expectations by hiring much of the same personnel from MFL, including director Moss Hart, designer Oliver Smith, and actors Julie Andrews and Robert Coote (Col. Pickering). The show's lead was another esteemed British stage & screen star, also a non-singer--but mellifluent of voice: Richard Burton. The package felt predestined, expensive, Important--and an easy sell. But the road to Bway was a battlefield: first Loewe, then Hart were stricken and hospitalized, leaving Lerner (the trio were the producers as well) in charge of the show. Considering the biggest problems were all in Lerner's libretto, this wasn't the pathway to clarity. After nine weeks on the road, the show opened on Bway, December 3, 1960. Despite fair to poor reviews the advance kept seats filled, tho lines at the box office soon disappeared. Moss Hart returned post-opening to clean up Lerner's mistakes; and the musical got a second wind after Burton & Andrews performed a lenghty sequence on the Ed Sullivan Show--which ostensibly was to honor My Fair Lady's fifth anniversary. But even with this bump in business, the show was never quite the smash hit it pretended to be. The Tony committee thought so little of it they couldn't even let it fill the fourth slot for Best Musical, naming just three in 1961 (snubbing The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Tenderloin as well) Yet the OCR album sold more than any other but MFL; the best-selling record in the country for 6 weeks --remaining on the charts for 265 weeks; just over five years. Incredibly, Lerner & Loewe built their own Bway label and imprimatur (second only to Rodgers & Hammerstein) on the strength of just five titles--and one of those a film musical. Tho it must be said that without My Fair Lady to anchor their fame, their other musicals would not have retained such luster.

Loewe wasn't enthused about Lerner's choice of T.H. White's Once and Future King for their next project, but once invested he gave it his usual melodic sheen--at least where it counts. And for Loewe nothing counted more than  The Big Ballad: the apex of all his musicals: "Almost Like Being in Love," in Brigadoon, "I Talk to the Trees" in Paint Your Wagon, the Oscar-winning title song from Gigi; and top of the heap: My Fair Lady's "On the Street Where You Live"--a song so geared for the Hit Parade, it was virtually tangential to the show, sung by a secondary, nearly minor, character. A song so popular you could retire on its income alone. Loewe (& Lerner) made sure that Camelot had--if nothing else--another like it. And "If Ever Would I Leave You," filled the bill and then some. It's a full meal of a ballad, walking thru the seasons on a lush, majestic line of updated operetta; manly, commanding, a prime baritone aria. It became, unavoidably, Goulet's signature song. Next to it, the title song is best known--but not much else; this isn't the platter of hits that MFL was. "Camelot" is a regal tune that captures the feel of the show, but isn't it odd that Arthur's catalog of Camelot's virtues are entirely meteorological? Lerner couldn't think of anything better than the weather? English weather? The song only earns its gravitas in the show's coda, the adopted Kennedy epitaph:

               Don't let it be forgot
               That once there was a spot
               For one brief shining moment . .
Arthur's establishing song, "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight," sets the bar for high expectations; a spoken-sung reverie that compares well to Rex Harrison's "Why Can't the English?" Equally fine are two numbers that are extended conversations: "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" (which sparked a box office run after being seen on Sullivan) and "Then You May Take Me to the Fair," which Hart cut after the Bway opening for a leaner pace. Yet the song survives, being better than most in the show, tho Lerner's cleverness is shamelessly cute: ("You'll open wide him?/I'll subdivide him/From fore to aft?/He'll feel a draft"). "The Lusty Month of May," seems a direct steal of "June is Busting Out All Over," (if not Pajama Game's "Once a Year Day"), but it's a much needed lift to a show lacking high spirits. "C'est Moi" has at least a tinge of humor, where there's scarcely any elsewhere. The score, however, has a high turkey count: "Fie on Goodness," and "The Seven Deadly Sins" were retained on the OCR, but are often dropped, as well as a song for Mordred and Morgan LeFay (a character often dropped as well) called "The Persuasion"--that to date has never been recorded. Unforgivably, Julie Andrews' songs, which were such a highlight of MFL, are mostly flat here. When was the last time you heard "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood," "I Loved You Once in Silence," or "Before I Gaze at You Again," in any concert or recital? The latter, which was handed to Julie the night before the first NY preview, could be mistaken for a lullaby--it nearly puts me to sleep. Burton's spoken-aria, "How to Handle a Woman" is another dud, a languid reverie concluding in middlebrow pandering: the trick being just "to love her, simply love her." A sentiment the story soon proves worthless. L&L made their greatest mistake in not setting Arthur's soliloquy to music--it's the show's pivotal turn, the moment he sees his two shining stars burn for each other; the first act curtain. It demands a Rose's Turn, an aria worthy of Billy Bigelow. And what do we get instead? A speech by Lerner, like most of his: obvious, pompous, full of stage brimstone and faux-Shakespearean passion. Qualitites potentially transcended when set to music by Loewe. What were they thinking? And finally, "Guenevere"--a rousing British bolero, that unfortunately is used as a narrative wrap-up for what feels like another hour of story. Is there another musical that--rather than show it--has the chorus come on and tell the climax of a tale? And that's the eleven o'clock number. All this and more adds up to why I've never warmed up to the show.

Whatever Camelot's narrative shorcomings on stage, its cinematic potential was obvious. Arthur Freed, once MGM's premier musical producer now independent agent, couldn't convince the studio's new boss (and musical hater) Joseph Vogel to buy the property. Freed wanted Vincente Minnelli to direct--a natural thru-line from Gigi--using the Bway cast. But the show was sold in February '61 to Jack Warner, who was snapping up Bway properties like a kid in a candy store; and had yet to make The Music Man, Gypsy, and My Fair Lady. He took his time getting around to Camelot--altho he aquired it before MFL. The success of the latter would only add cachet to the former. George Cukor navigated MFL to safe harbor and a personal Oscar--as well as one for Mr. Warner. Nothing suggests Cukor was ever offered Camelot--tho it might seem a good fit. Instead, Warner handed it to Joshua Logan--who'd done well with Fanny, and South Pacific--at least commercially. Logan, like Lerner, wielded a power and influence that left unchecked, reeked of hubris. Warner let him run wild. Jack wanted the film shot entirely on the Warner lot (as was MFL and The Music Man). but Josh insisted on real exteriors and took a long holiday touring castles in Spain. I've seen better castles. (Some even on Hlwd stages) Then there's the matter of casting . . .

Given that Julie Andrews and Richard Burton were now (post-Bway) the #1 and #5 box office movie stars in America, it seems positively perverse that anyone else would be considered for roles they had created--it wasn't as if they'd outgrown them. But Logan wasn't buying it. He wanted youth, surprise, sex. Vanessa Redgrave had just broken thru in a trio of British films in 1966: Blow Up, A Man for All Seasons, and Morgan!--for which she received her first Oscar nomination  (alongside sister Lynn for Georgy Girl). But she is only 16 months younger than Andrews, and Richard Harris but five years behind Burton. So really it was just a matter of taste. Logan couldn't see the sex in Andrews, and thought Burton wooden. And he didn't buy Robert Goulet's mannequin handsomeness. Franco Nero was an Italian spaghetti western star, 25 years old and sexy in a looser, proto-hippie manner. Logan's aim in finding chemistry between his Lancelot and Guenevere couldn't have been better; Nero & Redgrave became longtime lovers, had a son together, and reunited in marriage in 2006--that continues to this day. Logan's casting may have lent a hipper, younger vibe to what is essentially an operetta. And given that it is an operetta, wouldn't Andrews & Goulet have been, in the long run, better suited and more appealing to the musical's true devotees? Camelot earned $12,250,000--a robust figure for the time, but the film cost $15mil; and made far less than the $30mil take of My Fair Lady, or Sound of Music's $72mil haul--both of which Camelot hoped to emulate in success and awards. It's hard to estimate the difference Andrews might have made. But if Logan was passing her up, Ross Hunter at Universal wasn't, slapping together a somewhat bizarre original film musical for March '67 Roadshow release: Thoroughly Modern Millie. Even in such weaker material--harking back to her roots in The Boy Friend--Julie hauled in a lofty $16 million.

Despite his reputation, Lerner's scripts are consistently problematic; they lack focus, and grasp at too many threads in every story. Adapting a volume as large as White's 1958 best seller--four books in one--is typical of Lerner's overreach. His one good libretto was structured for him by Bernard Shaw. Camelot is chock full of barely-there stories; popular mythical figures reduced to cameos; too many characters, too little characterization. For a newbie to the world of Arthurian lore, Camelot was little help in orientation--maybe even the root of my disinterest in the subject. Lerner's screenplay begins with Arthur on the verge of battle and engaged in a post-story "How did this happen?" monologue; the voice of Merlin goading, "think back, Arthur..." as tho we need to have the flashback structure explained to us. (Maybe flashbacks were invented during the Age of Chivalry) Merlin even has to tell Art to remember the day he met Guenevere, and state "That's the beginning." Thanks for telling us--why didn't we just start there? (as they did on stage); to quote Oscar Hammerstein, "a very good place to start." The story proper begins with a long establishing scene in the R&H mode; a sort of snowy Bench Scene, in which the leading characters reveal themselves to us in song, before joining together on a third number: the seduction. It's easily the show's strongest section, setting a standard rarely met as the musical progresses. Logan's Spanish castle may be real, but the film's snowy forest is so artificial it generates hackles. On stage it might be truly spectacular, but up close the fiberglass icicles and styrofoam snow heaps look so phony as to be distracting. What may be enchanting on stage, may come off poorly on film. Lerner wisely omitted the next stage scene: Merlin being lead to the beyond by Nimue--a water nymph given no context, explanation, or reason for being; yet given a song, "Follow Me," which sounds suspiciously like a slow-tempo version of a later Lerner song (albeit to music by Burton Lane), "Come Back to Me," from On a Clear Day. Bad enuf we haven't a clue who Nimue is, Merlin gets scarce definition--riding on assumption of audience familiarity--and serves only as former personal wizard and tutor to Wart (Arthur's childhood nickname), who now cries in vain for Merlin's guidance. Here's an example of Lerner's sloppy mythology: Merlin is said to be "growing backwards," meaning, like Benjamin Button he is de-aging as he moves from the future into the past. But now that he's being lead to "eternal sleep," shouldn't he be at very least a young man, if not an infant? So, why does he look as old as the hills? Anyway, Lerner cut this from the movie, giving us instead, a choral reprise of "Camelot" and a montage leading up to the royal wedding--which takes place among a sea of candles, but no people. Wouldn't this be an event in the kingdom?--Maria von Trapp had a bigger affair.

The romance and marriage consummated, we jump four years to the invention of Might for Right, democracy and modern chivalry--all thought up by Arthur in his chamber, much the way composers casually stumble upon their greatest hits in those Hlwd music bios. Lerner writes for Arthur as tho he were still Wart; "Proposition: it is far better to be alive than dead. If that is so, then why do we have wars in which people can get killed?" Hardly Shavian dialogue--nor should it be, but must it sound like the mental process of a fifth-grader? Intelligent discourse isn't furthered by the introduction of another extraneous character, King Pellinore (a doddering old bumbler) meant for comic relief--alas, an aspiration unmet. But the heart of the story and the musical's true justification is, of course, the love that erupts between Lancelot & Guenevere, and the triad of emotions with Arthur. To Logan's credit, this is done well on screen--no doubt in large measure from the real attraction between Franco & Vanessa, with a potent assist from Fred Loewe. Here's where "If Ever I Would Leave You" proves its standing--sans lyrics in montage, the song conveys longing and passion entirely in its melody. Warner's studio orchestra under the musical direction of Alfred Newman & Ken Darby, is more symphonic than the plush Bway orchestration, and the underscoring is worthy of its Oscar win. The song itself isn't sung until the second half, with another instrumental montage following; this one a seasonal catalog of trysts in meadow, snow, river and fireside.

And then deep into the story, with no prior mention we suddenly meet Mordred: Arthur's bastard son (the bad seed) come to destroy his life and kingdom. But do we even need him to stir up trouble? Lerner has already shown Lance alienating the court and fighting knights who dare call him out for a secret everyone knows--and for which he is actually guilty. (So much for his virtue; now he's an utter hypocrite) Isn't this enuf to tear at the fabric of The Round Table, and lead to its demise? Arthur turns a blind eye to the truth, but is said to make certain he never leaves the two lovers alone. Yet we've just watched a four-season honeymoon album of private afternoons. Any of which Mordred could've exposed, but instead Lerner has him direct his own sting operation, catching the lovers in flagrante--altho (oh, the irony!) they are in midst of final breakup. Of course the movie can show all the events relayed in the chorus of "Guenevere," but words and images in mutual description are superfluous, and ultimately all the action merely seems to pad out an already long movie. Lerner felt it necessary to clearly spell out Arthur's dilemmas in some ad-copy dialogue from Mordred: "Let her die, your life is over, let her live, your life's a fraud." Forced to seek battle on his favorite knight, Arthur has a last evening of reverie. Lance & Jenny sneak in for a final rapproachment. But it's all gone to shit. Not only has Arthur lost everything but Lance has too; Jenny has entered a nunnery. (Away nasty feelings!) It's such a downer; a bad aftertaste from most of the second half. But the coda is what people remember: the boy who brings hope, the one who's heard the legend. So that's what it's all about: storytelling; the creation of myth. The boy, Tom of Warwick, is, of course, meant to be Thomas Malory--author of the 1485 Le Morte d'Arthur--the best known, primary source of Arthurian folklore. "Run, boy, run," shouts Arthur on the strains of "Camelot," so that half a millenium later we might be watching such hoary romance tales set to Lerner & Loewe tunes.
The musical's pretension invites parody; and leave it to the Monty Python troupe to make a film, then expand it into a full blown Bway musical that exploits the true silliness of Arthurian myth, dragging in a good deal more literary references, and a lot of anachronism as well. Despite a result that plays like a Vegas-sized Hasty Pudding Show, Spamalot succeeds where Camelot all too often fails. It's funny, and whatsmore, it's fun. Deprived of Shaw, Lerner showed a leaden tongue when it came to humor. Shortly after the Bway opening, with enuf royalties for a lifetime coming in, Frederick Loewe called it quits and retired to Palm Springs--with periodic jaunts to Monte Carlo and luxurious spots in between. No one ever said the man didn't know how to live. He had little involvement in any of the three movies made from his shows over the next few years. His partner, like Richard Rodgers, lived to work. But to increasing degree, Lerner would sabotage his own new musicals over the next two decades. You can't blame a man for trying, but Camelot was the last true success Lerner would have--tho artistically that remains in dispute. The show would see road tour Bway revivals with Burton (and Christine Ebersole) then Harris (with Meg Bussert)--who would take it internationally, vying for his definitive mark on the role. HBO filmed this for TV broadcast in '82. Goulet would graduate to Arthur in '93, and other tours featured Rock Hudson and Michael York. In 2008 Gabriel Byrne and Marin Mazzie performed a concert version at Lincoln Center. The original Bway production, which played a month over two years, was so expensive to produce (often dubbed "Costalot") they held off forming a second company to tour, and instead hit the road once they closed on Bway. It passed thru LA in April of '63--before I'd even seen MFL on stage at the Greek. Ironically, the show was playing the Nixon Theater in Pittsburgh the week JFK was shot. A year later his widow would publicly announce her husband's obsession with a passage from a musical comedy.  From then on the Kennedy era had a moniker: Camelot.
The Valley Music Theater in Woodland Hills lasted but three summers in the mid-sixties, the first of those concrete-domed suburban LA stages to end its program of Bway plays and musicals--following a last season of such faltering fare as Frank Gorshin in What Makes Sammy Run? and Anne Jeffreys in Do I Hear a Waltz?  My treasured local venue offered one last highlight: a Carolyn Jones/ Mary Wickes High Spirits that suited them both beautifully. The following summer, in the throes of withdrawl, I somehow recruited my parents to trek down to Melodyland in Anaheim (some 70 miles), to see Camelot with Kathryn Grayson--unknown to me then as the former MGM soprano, now irrelevant in films; she was a replacement Guenevere on Bway, which kept her much employed for years thereafter on the road. But there are few things as depressing as a Sunday matinee in a near-empty Theater-in-the-Round--especially for a show famous for its elaborate scenery. And if that weren't bad enuf, my father's disinterest was more rabid than usual--tho I could hardly blame him, bored as I was myself. Worst of all was being across the street from Disneyland, with no amount of pleading getting me in. Oh, the humanity! This experience having sullied my feelings for L&L's opus, I had little interest in the movie's premiere Roadshow engagement in Hlwd that autumn. Especially with actors I didn't even know. No, here was one I wasn't remotely keen to see. I did see it two years later, not of my own volition but on the bill at the Los Altos cinema where I worked 3 nights a week in my very first job--show business! I didn't much like it then and saw no reason to watch it again until now. I also just watched the HBO taping with Harris --who looks to have aged more than the 15 years since he made the movie--and whose performance reeks of shameless ham built up over time. He isn't wrong for Logan's movie, I can see his appeal. Still, I suspect Burton's inner intensity would be more interesting to watch. Try as he might Harris cannot spin Lerner's   bombastic   speeches  into   oratorical  gold. 
Vanessa Redgrave may then have been among the hottest new film stars, but here appears surprisingly unformed. She has odd moments acting for the camera--overly indicating her thoughts. Her singing voice is adequate at best, with no attempt to match Andrews. Her "Lusty Month of May" is slowed to a purr, and the ballads delivered in whisper. But Redgrave is that rare actress whose beauty and talent would blossom with age, and few would cite Camelot among her greatest hits. Tho his singing voice is dubbed, Franco Nero hits all the right emotional notes as Lancelot, sincerity oozing from his pleading eyes like a basset hound. Tho the role is cast with movie-star cred, T.H. White actually describes Lance as the ugliest man in Camelot--which surely adds depth to the love affair. After all, it's easy to fall for a movie star, as Redgrave herself did. Lionel Jeffries and Laurence Naismith disappear behind forests of facial hair as Pellinore and Merlin, and David Hemmings is a properly creepy Mordred--slinking about like a child molester--deprived of his two stage numbers. It's an acceptable cast, just not an exciting, or muscially talented one.

After the success and prestige Hlwd accorded My Fair Lady and Sound of Music, Warner's expectations were high for Academy acclaim--surely he had great hopes for the cast, Logan, and a Pic nomination; but apparently Camelot bores as many as it thrills. The Tony committee liked Burton and Andrews, but not Goulet; bestowing awards for scenery, costumes and conducting; while snubbing Lerner, Loewe & Hart. Hlwd followed similar suit. The film biz was turning a sharp curve in '67, and Warner, much to his displeasure, was getting buzz for another film: a new-age gangster comedy, that he particularly hated, Bonnie & Clyde. Racial issues were at the heart of In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?; and the biggest smash of all was The Graduate--an art-house comedy that bled mainstream. But this was still the era of the Bway Roadshow musical--and would-be Bway musical movies (some of which eventually became stage hits) and so, the fifth Best Pic slot went again to a musical, tho not to Camelot. What then? Not the spring-released How to Succeed... No, not big enuf: Then it must be Thoroughly Modern Millie. Nope. It was Doctor Doolittle, in which Rex Harrison talks to animals and Anthony Newley sings Leslie Bricusse songs. Warner was surely appalled. Harris and Redgrave also didn't make the list, tho Harris did win a Golden Globe (in the comedy or musical category, ironically over Burton in Taming of the Shrew and Harrison's Doolittle). Hlwd did concede some technical noms to Camelot's visual design. Logan hated the Bway checkerboard and banner settings by Oliver Smith, awash in red and gold; and veered as far away from that as possible. How he came to hire a 30 year old Australian actor (with no previous design credits) to oversee the film's art direction and costumes is a mystery. And for this debut John Truscott was awarded two Oscars--tho the competition (culled from most of the movies listed above) wasn't especially tough. The musical's two showy ensemble scenes paralleled those in My Fair Lady: "The Jousts" is Camelot's "Ascot Gavotte," down to the same crowd-at-the-rail blow-by-blow chorale narration. On screen, the song is dropped and the actual sporting event can be shown--in triplicate. But there's still a parade of Medieval couture, with millinery resembling a field of mutant mushrooms. It's more glamorous still, at the Embassy Ball--er, Knighting Ceremony, with Jenny in quilted gold chain-mail. The sets are indeed lacking red and gold, but in earth tones of dust, armor, brick. Exteriors, like the laughable winter wonderland that opens the story aren't Truscott's best. He's better with Arthur's chamber; the palace assembly room, or the secret garden where Lance & Jenny meet to lament that they cannot meet. (Yeah, it makes little sense). The New Yorker called the film "The biggest Lord & Taylor Christmas window of all time." 

Other obsessions consumed me at the time. I had maneuvered my mother into a library upgrade--the regional branch--which meant a longer drive, but now I had access to better books, the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section and--gasp!--Variety. So while the world was shifting on its cultural axis by the likes of one Sgt. Pepper and a headline-making "Summer of Love" media-freakshow in San Francisco, I was chin-deep into the makings and doings of. . . Bway '67! I spent hours copying by hand, the full-page poster ads of the incoming Bway musicals, which collected on my bedroom wall as the season progressed. What did my parents make of all this, I wonder? Or did they bother to take any of it in?--wrapped up, as they were, in their own Russian pessimism and paranoia. Surely they were somewhat comforted in that showtunes, not psychedelic rock, regularly blasted behind my bedroom door. Two nights before Camelot's premiere the first musical of the Bway season (and the first I ever anticipated) opened. But Henry, Sweet Henry, was an unfortunate victim of the zeitgeist and the dismissive breath of Clive Barnes, who that summer, tuned-in and turned-off to Bway's traditional sound, condemning nearly all the season's tuners to the dust bin in advance and heralding the gauntlet of Hair. In his riveting book, The Season, William Goldman captured this very season--the first ever that I followed as it unfolded. Part of Henry's significance, to me, was the shock of its failure. Goldman claimed that preview houses--before Barnes pounced--reacted with the same furor they accorded Mame. The Sunday after opening, Ed Sullivan featured a number on his show, introducing a pint-sized Merman named Alice Playten in a cleverly staged (by a then unknown Michael Bennett) song called "Poor Little Person"--Go  watch  it on  Youtube--Go now! I still recall the thrill of laying my hands on the album in the May Co. record department, even before my nightly Bway radio program debuted it on the air. In truth, Bob Merrill's first full score since Carnival! had a rather tinny, slightly cheesy feel to it, but, some moments as well that positively electrified me.* Ultimately, Henry's legacy, impressionable and heartbreaking as it was, comes to rest primarily as introduction to Alice Playten--a tiny dynamo who, thanks to Ben Bagley, Al Carmines and others, made a fair number of unique recordings--and remains forever one of my top ten voices. Henry, Sweet Henry was the sort  of show  Gower  Champion  should've  been  shaping. 
Instead he was molding the year's other heartbreaker, Kander & Ebb's The Happy Time which came to tryout in LA--my first pre-Bway musical experience. Whether the show was  brilliant or I was  just 15 years old and saw myself in 16 year old Michael Rupert sharing the stage with Robert Goulet (making a timely bid to move beyond "Lancelot") and David Wayne, I absolutely loved it--tho too much reliance on photographs, made it seem spare of scenic splendor--I'd seen enuf bare-bones sets via the limitations of theater-in-the-round. Whether it was a cultural reflection or purely accidental, the Bway musical took an exit ramp from The Golden Age in 1967; nothing seemed to work anymore; not a singing Man Who Came to Dinner (Sherry!); not a saucy foreign film musicalized for its original star--which some thought a sign of the coming apocalypse (Illya, Darling); not a cavalcade of African-American history by Styne, Comden & Green (Hallelujah, Baby!). A haggard Judy Garland returned to the Palace--for her final time, and in legendary decline; and Marlene Dietrich made her last Madame Tussaud-like stand on Bway in October. The fall season reflected the uncertainty with only two new musical openings: Henry and Merrick's How Now Dow Jones--both summarily dismissed. By the time The Happy Time opened in January '68, hope was high the tide would shift. But Barnes wasn't charmed by this one either, and suddenly it seemed the Bway musical had lost it footing--or audience--or both.

Meanwhile in Hlwd, studios blinded by the phenomenon of Sound of Music, were green-lighting musicals like they were going out of style; which in turn made it so. But in Hlwd '67, the trend was bigger stars with bigger budgets, and bigger junkets for Roadshow releases. The next eight Bway musicals coming down the pike would follow this model--with very mixed results. Much like Camelot itself. There are moments that sizzle in dramatic tension, but virtually none of the musical sequences are special. And at three full hours it drags on for far too long, then races to an ending. As for the magic? Well, you know what the they say about smoke & mirrors.

Next Up: Half a Sixpence

Report Card:    Camelot
Overall Film:    C+
Bway Fidelity:  B
Musical Numbers from Bway:  12
Musical Numbers Cut from Bway:  6
New Songs:  None
Standout Number:  "C'est Moi"
Casting:  Trendy, non-musical
Standout Cast:  Franco Nero
Cast from Bway:  None
Direction:  Dull in drama, cliched in action,
      Best in scenes of sexual tension
Choreography:  Casual, Maypole whimsy
Ballet:  None (An "Enchanted Forest Ballet"
      was cut prior to Bway)
Scenic Design:  Opulent, if rarely beautiful
Costumes:  Intricate if rarely stunning
Standout Sets: Arthur's chamber
        Palace Throne Hall, Secret Garden
Titles: Gothic serif on purple forest scene
Oscar Noms: 5--Cinematography, Sound
     3 wins: Art Direction, Costumes, Scoring.

*For those true fanatics interested, to quote Bob Merrill's aching ballad: "Here I Am." The melody seduces me every time by its orchestration alone, especially its exquisite fanfare in the overture--the ultimate Loretta Young entrance, and my would-be theme song; Playten's two numbers are indispensible, and Neva Small's are enjoyable as well. But "Weary Near to Dyin'" is a jaw-dropping Bway take on the "hippie sound," which underneath its Bway orchestration could be mistaken for Galt MacDermot, and builds to a truly orgiastic finish. A travesty, no doubt, to rock purists. But I find it endlessly fascinating--one can only wonder how Michael Bennett set it to dance. 

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