photo by Marc J. Franklin
On the surface, Aaron Sorkin’s passion for writing about American politics, law, and media might not make him an obvious candidate to reimagine the book of a classic American musical based on an English legend. But as he discussed with Lincoln Center Theater's dramaturg Jenna Clark Embrey, the emotional and ideological questions at the center of CAMELOT have nothing to do with magic. Instead, the show explores the dilemma of an idealistic leader whose values are challenged by the messy, moral ambiguities of real life.
For fans of Lerner and Loewe’s original, and of THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, the series of fantasy novels by T. H. White on which the musical is based, the most striking change to the story will be the absence of magic. Arthur is not transformed into animals by Merlyn; Morgan is not a fairy-tale witch; there is no ‘invisible wall’ trapping the King. Says director Bartlett Sher: “[Sorkin] likes the political idea that maybe Arthur pulled the sword out of the stone but, as Guenevere reminds him, ten thousand people loosened it before him. [This] is a very big, democratic idea, as opposed to a magical one, and that’s central to his point of view.”
“If magic is involved, I feel like the stakes aren’t as high” says Sorkin, ”I knew that one of the things that I wanted to do was tell the story without any supernatural elements… I thought it might be interesting to see how this story lands if it feels real, if it feels like it’s taking place in the world that we’re living in. Because, as sad as the end of the story may be, it is also meant to be inspirational. Look what humans are capable of if we reach high.”
LYRICS AND BOOK
Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) wrote some of America’s best-loved and enduring musicals with Frederick Loewe over a period of more than 25 years including: LIFE OF THE PARTY, WHAT’S UP, THE DAY BEFORE SPRING, MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT, and GIGI. Lerner worked on an array of movies and musicals with other collaborators, including writing the script for the classic film AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, and the lyrics for ROYAL WEDDING. Lerner received multiple Tony and Academy awards, along with Grammys, Golden Globes, and a Kennedy Center Honor.
BRINGING CAMELOT TO THE STAGE
It takes a huge team of designers, artisans, and crew members to bring a show like CAMELOT to the stage. We'd like to highlight the work of a few members of this team below: the set designer, the costume designer, and the choreographer.
Asked about the scale of the stage, set designer Michael Yeargan said, “It’s the whole world.” The high arches and deep thrust are meant to evoke the human condition of striving for the ideal. “[It’s in the song] CAMELOT. [Guenevere] makes fun of it in the beginning but when you hear it at the end, you realize it was yearning for a better place that was almost there, but it all fell apart – it’s the ultimate saddest thing in the world. But’s it’s really the world, and that’s why it’s so big.”
The set model for a scene from CAMELOT