A new adaptation of Camelot at Lyric Stage
Despite its status as one of the most successful musicals of Broadway’s Golden Age, Camelot has never truly worked on stage. Although it’s lush Lerner and Loewe score is about as good as it gets, this ambitious musical adaptation of T.H. White’s sprawling “The Once and Future King” was problematic from the start.
With early out-of-town tryouts in 1960 running nearly four hours long, Lerner and Loewe, along with director Moss Hart, struggled to make cuts that made the show both shorter and better. By the time the production arrived on Broadway later that year, Camelot had been spliced down to about three hours but still suffered from extraneous subplots that bogged the story down and detracted from the show’s core, the love triangle between Guenevere, King Arthur, and Lancelot.
At the time, Camelot’s sets and costumes were among the most elaborate, large, and expensive that Broadway had ever seen. (One producer dubbed the show “Costalot”). Camelot had a relatively short but successful run thanks mostly to its stars—Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet—and the mega-popular cast album that topped the charts and was a fabled favorite of the Kennedys.
But Camelot has never really enjoyed major success since. There have been three short-lived Broadway revivals (the last of which was almost 25 years ago) and a couple of massive tours, but the show is daunting for community theaters and smaller regional companies, not only because of the size and cost (the original production had a cast of over 50), but because it is a challenge to mount a compelling production of a musical that has never quite worked.
Until now, perhaps.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston will close out its season with a new adaptation of Camelot that has only been seen at a small handful of theaters around the country. Director Spiro Veloudos has been after the rights to this new two-hour Camelot for the better part of the last decade after seeing the show at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2010.
“I have always loved the music and I love the story of Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot,” said Veloudos, “but I hated all of those extraneous characters. When I heard about this version being done in Pasadena I booked a flight to see it. The audience reaction to it was amazing, and my reaction to it was as well.”
David Lee, co-creator of television hits Wings and Frasier, is the author of this newly adapted Camelot, and until recently has been safeguarding the rights to the musical, the very rights that Veloudos had all but given up hope of obtaining.
It wasn’t until the Lyric’s remarkable scaled down production of My Fair Lady (also by Lerner and Loewe) last fall that Veloudos was finally able to secure the rights. He had been speaking to representatives from the Frederick Loewe Foundation who asked Veloudos if he would be interested in mounting a new adaptation of Camelot. He responded by telling them that he’d been after the rights for years, and they assured him that they would make it happen.
Veloudos’ relationship with the Loewe Foundation did not blossom until after My Fair Lady, which Veloudos said they had some concerns about. While the Lyric’s production of My Fair Lady, which was directed by Scott Edmiston, was not a new adaptation, it was tinkered with so that it would better fit into the intimate space.
According to Veloudos, they were concerned about the orchestra being nothing more than a piano and a violin, and they asked Veloudos for a plot of the cast and the characters they would play, ensuring that the doubling (one actor playing multiple roles) met their approval. (The foundation wanted a cast of 19, and the Lyric ultimately utilized 16.)
They came to the show and loved it, which is what helped Veloudos finally snatch the rights to this sought after but closely guarded adaptation.
“I’m really in tune with what I think is [Lee’s] intent, which is to tell the story in such a way that the audience is engaged by it,” said Veloudos. “It has a real story theater kind of feel to it, which is something I like a great deal. It works perfectly in that intimate little space we have on Clarendon Street.”
Camelot purists might miss some of the secondary characters, like Morgan Le Fey and Merlyn (who only appears in this version as a spirit), but so far, the critical reception to this new adaptation has been as strong as the audience reaction.
As written, Lee’s new version of Camelot is for a cast of seven men and only one woman—Guenevere. This didn’t quite work for Veloudos, who went back to the Loewe Foundation and asked for permission to augment the cast.
“I thought, there’s more than one woman in Camelot,” said Veloudos, “and to fill out the kingdom you have to have more women involved, or Guenevere is extremely busy during the ‘Lusty Month of May.’ That’s actually how I put it to the people at [the Loewe Foundation] and they agreed with me.”
Starring as Guenevere is Maritza Bostic, who was a major standout in Into the Woods and Sondheim on Sondheim, both of which were directed by Veloudos at the Lyric. Still, despite his familiarity with Bostic’s abilities, she still had to come in and audition. The casting of Bostic, who is not a Julie Andrews-like ingénue, is another fresh and exciting element of this Camelot.
“I had a specific emotional trait that I was looking for with Guenevere,” said Veloudos. “I wanted someone who was young and burgeoning out of womanhood. I wanted a feistier Guenevere.”
It is important to Veloudos that people know this won’t be our grandmother’s Camelot. “A lot of people, when they hear Camelot, they go, ‘Oh, no,’” he said. “If you love the music but have had problems with the story being told, this is the version that you’re going to be excited by. To not have that pomp-and-circumstance kind of Camelot is going to be wonderful and I’m very happy to be working on it.”
CAMELOT. 5.19 – 6.25 AT THE LYRIC STAGE COMPANY OF BOSTON, 140 CLARENDON ST., BOSTON. WWW.LYRICSTAGE.COM