(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/24; via Pam Green; Photo: Andrew Burnap, top, as Arthur in the new Broadway revival of “Camelot,” with Jordan Donica as Lancelot and Phillipa Soo as Guenevere.Credit…Jingyu Lin for The New York Times.)
The screenwriter overcame a stroke as he worked to revise the beloved but befuddling Golden Age musical for a Broadway revival.
“Camelot” opened on Broadway 63 years ago, an eagerly anticipated new musical from the makers of “My Fair Lady.” But happily-ever-aftering took a while.
Out-of-town, while trying to trim the overlong production, one writer was hospitalized with an ulcer, and the director collapsed of a heart attack. In New York, despite starring Julie Andrews and Richard Burton, “Camelot” took months to find its footing, and only did so following a televised segment on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Today the musical, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is remembered as one of the last of Broadway’s Golden Age shows, but its traditional narrative — Arthurian legend with all of its romance, politics, swordplay and sorcery — has never quite clicked.
“Unfortunately, ‘Camelot’ is weighed down by the burden of its book,” the New York Times critic Howard Taubman wrote of the opening. That assessment has persisted. “It has one of the great scores of all time,” said Theodore S. Chapin, the former president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, “but the plot starts to go haywire.”
On April 13, a new version of “Camelot” is scheduled to open on Broadway, with its book rewritten by Aaron Sorkin. The Hollywood screenwriter is familiar to many as the creator of the television series “The West Wing,” and he won an Oscar for writing the movie “The Social Network.” He is also an accomplished playwright, whose first Broadway drama, “A Few Good Men,” became a hit film, and whose most recent Broadway outing, an adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was a critical and commercial success.