Last night’s Camelot red carpet was the stuff of legends. The new revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s classic musical Camelot opened on April 13 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater and its cast was ready to celebrate. Read what the critics had to say here.
And it wasn’t just because it was opening night. It’s because the evening marked the end of a years-long re-envisioning process, marked by new discoveries of a familiar legend.
As Anthony Michael Lopez, who plays the knight Sir Dinadan, told Playbill at the opening night red carpet: "To open the show on Broadway after working on this for two years, it's been a really incredible experience." Why has a revival taken that long? It's because this Camelot is not like other revivals. For one, it has a new script by Aaron Sorkin (based on Lerner’s original book).
“The original book was kind of complicated and didn't quite work,” says revival’s director Bartlett Sher told Playbill (in a sentiment that has been echoed by many theatre fans over the years). So in bringing Camelot back, Sher said it was important to not just re-explore the musical, but also the Arthurian legend that it’s based on. “You have to ask the question of what the myth means to you at the time you're doing it. So to investigate our history and our myths is our chance to ask ourselves who we are now. And I think Camelot gets us—when we're struggling over democracy, over ideas, over our relationships, over who we are—Camelot really allows us to ask that question.”
So this new version of Camelot isn’t afraid to be political, though Sher and the cast point out the show has never shied away from the events of the day—in the ’60s, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis compared the presidency of John F. Kennedy to Camelot.
Phillipa Soo, who plays a more headstrong (and politically astute) Guenevere in this new revival, had nothing but compliments for Sorkin’s new script, saying, “It makes my job very easy, with something so well written and so deeply explored, and so funny, lovely, and interesting. I just had to show up.”
Below, watch the cast of Camelot answer a question that has divided fans and scholars for centuries: Are you Team Arthur or Team Lancelot? And scroll down further to read more reflections from the Camelot red carpet.
Camelot is based on the novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White, and it chronicles the tale of King Arthur, including the founding of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table; the love triangle between Arthur, Guenevere, and Lancelot; and the downfall of the kingdom.
Through the rehearsal and preview process for the show, the cast has been able to rediscover their characters anew. “It's been tough. I'm not gonna lie to you,” Jordan Donica tells Playbill of playing Lancelot, which requires him to carry a fully weighted broadsword and execute some stunning fight choreography.
But what’s been special to Donica about this Camelot isn’t just the story, but the cast. Donica is Black, Soo is Asian, Marilee Talkington is legally blind, and Anthony Michael Lopez uses a prosthetic. Says Donica: “It’s a reflection of America today, even though we are doing it as a period piece. It's a very diverse place filled with many types of people of gender, race, and physical abilities. And I think our show is a perfect reflection of that.”
Sorkin’s new script for Camelot has also taken away all of the references to magic, wizards, and witches in the show. At one point, Guenevere says that perhaps Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone because the people before him had "loosened it." Merlin is now a wise sage and Morgan Le Fey is now a scientist. As Marilee Talkington tells Playbill, “[Sorkin] basically wrote a new Morgan le Fey.” The character of Morgan was continually changing throughout the show’s rehearsal and preview process, says Talkington, “Working with [Bartlett Sher] has been absolutely incredible because we have just been trying things. For three months, Morgan actually changed profoundly, even just a week ago!”
It’s clear, from the way the cast talk about the show, that they’ve been treating this Camelot like it’s a new piece of theatre. They’ve been bonding in the rehearsal room over the new character discoveries or story revelations.
Taylor Trensch, who plays Mordred (who helps execute the downfall of Camelot), says that his favorite part of the show are the moments right before his character’s entrance. “I have the distinguished pleasure of getting to watch Jordan Donica sing, ‘If Ever I Would Leave You,’ from a little cave, like a little gremlin every night. And it's just a free concert, honestly, for me. What a dream, he's so dang good.”
For Donica, the feeling is mutual, “I love Taylor Trensch. What Taylor Trensch has done with both of his songs is incredibly difficult to do, especially in the amount of time that he is on stage.” He then adds, “We love each other. It's very mutual. It's very meaningful.”
In the show, Arthur is trying to create a more just and fair society, under the banner “might for right,” where knights serve and protect the public, instead of raping and pillaging. But the musical is also realistic in showing how the desire to do good can become complicated in the face of human foibles.
“This show really explores the conflict between human nature and political responsibility—when do our human needs clash with what we're supposed to do? And I think that's a question that is evergreen,” says Lopez.
Though Arthur is not completely successful, it doesn't mean his mission was in vain. Fergie Philippe, who plays the knight Sir Sagramore, thinks in today’s divisive times, having an “idealistic and hopeful person” like Arthur on stage is more important than ever. “It shouldn't be that hard to create a system that everybody can truly live their best life by. And that everybody can see equality and justice and love, and live their life with the most safety and with the most love as possible. If that's not an important theme for what we're going through in 2023, I don't know what is. It makes the perfect metaphor for what we're going through right now.”
For Tony winner Andrew Burnap, who plays Arthur, he wants audiences to walk out of the show questioning the current systems they’re in and work to create change. “We are grappling with that question today, possibly more than we ever have,” he says. “So I think it's very important that we see where the birth of some of these ideas came from, at least in this story, and to make sure that we keep passing them on.”
See photos from opening night below, including guests Celia Keenan-Bolger, Amber Gray, and fashion designer Michael Kors.
Camelot also stars Dakin Matthews as Merlyn/Pellinore, Camden McKinnon as Tom of Warwick, and Danny Wolohan as Sir Lionel. The ensemble includes Delphi Borich, Matías De La Flor, Sola Fadiran, Rachel Fairbanks, Nkrumah Gatling, Christian Mark Gibbs, Holly Gould, Edwin Joseph, Monte Greene, Edwin Joseph, Tesia Kwarteng, James Romney, Ann Sanders, Britney Nicole Simpson, Philip Stoddard, Valerie Torres-Rosario, Frank Viveros, and Paul Whitty.
Camelot returns with a 30-piece orchestra, conducted by music director Kimberly Grigsby, performing the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang and the original dance and choral arrangements by Trude Rittman.
Sher leads a creative team that also includes choreographer Byron Easley, set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Jennifer Moeller, hair and wig designer Cookie Jordan, lighting designer Lap Chi Chu, and sound designers Marc Salzberg and Beth Lake, with projections by 59 Productions. Casting is by The Telsey Office's Adam Caldwell. B.H. Barry will serve as fight director, and Kate Wilson is the voice and dialect coach. Charles Means serves as production stage manager.
Camelot originally opened in 1960 starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, and Robert Goulet in the famous love triangle at the center of the story. The Lincoln Center Theater production is the fifth revival of the work.