The night the now-classic musical Camelot opened in Canada in 1960, it ran for 4 1/2 hours, creating what co-creator Alan Jay Lerner called a "bladder endurance contest."
Subsequently, Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe pared it down considerably, and that's the version opening March 6 at Richey Suncoast Theatre.
It's a romantic and tragic story based on the legend of fifth-century King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Arthur's love for his bride Guenevere, the betrayal of his favorite knight, Sir Lancelot de Lac, and his hope for a perfect, peaceful world.
It ran on Broadway for 873 performances, won Tony Awards for its cast and crew, and became part of the story of America when people began to see parallels between the mythical Camelot and the ever-hopeful but tragically assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
The show has many of Lerner and Loewe's favorite songs — If Ever I Would Leave You, How to Handle a Woman, Before I Gaze at You Again and the title song. It made a star of a young Robert Goulet, who played the handsome knight Lancelot when it opened on Broadway and 30 years later toured with the show as an aging King Arthur (that production played the Straz Center in 1993).
The story spans more than two decades, starting when a young Arthur (Bob Marcela, Charlie Award for Horace in Hello, Dolly, Max in Lend Me a Tenor) waits apprehensively outside the castle walls to see the bride chosen for him, a very young Guenevere (Vicky Stinnett). He's encouraged by his mentor Merlyn (David Cruz, Jimmy in No, No, Nanette), who lives backward in time and knows the past and the future.
Guenevere is also a bit skittish, wishing to live an ordinary life on her own. But once she meets Arthur, it's love at first sight. Sadly, Merlyn begins to fade away before he can warn Arthur about two dangers — his angry, illegitimate son Mordred (Keith Surplus, Charlie as Cornelius in Dolly), and the charming knight-to-be Lancelot (David Bethards).
Five years pass, and Arthur ponders what he can do to help create a better world. He and his wife come up with the idea for a Round Table of planners and advisers, where everyone's voice would be equal. Five years later, he's established the Knights of the Round Table, and that's when the somewhat overly self-assured Lancelot shows up. He challenges other knights in jousting, wins, and becomes a hero. Before long, Lancelot and Guenevere realize they are in love.
More years pass, and their love grows, though they think Arthur doesn't know (he does). That's when the conniving and vengeful Mordred arrives to make mischief, with the help of his magician aunt, Morgan Le Fay (Monica Underwood). Their tricks lead to tragedy and the most heartbreaking part of the story, with wars and treachery tearing the idyllic Camelot apart.
The Richey Suncoast production has a cast of 19, including Paul Mattes (Buddy in City of Angels) as Sir Dinadan, David Bergeron as Sir Sagramore, Cruz as Sir Lionel and multi-Charlie winner Bill Schommer (Dr. Drimmond in There Goes the Bride, Henry in Funny Money, Tito in Lend Me a Tenor, etc.) as King Pellinore, Arthur's comical, skeptical, permanent guest who abhors any new ideas, no matter their worth.
Directors are Linda Hougland and Keith Surplus, with Steve Schildbach as music director and Amanda Witt as choreographer.