Original Broadway Production (1960)
The First Out-of-Town Performance
The first public performance of Camelot took place on Saturday evening, October 1, 1960, at the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto. Camelot was the inaugural attraction in the expensive new theatre.
In his memoir, The Street Where I Live, Alan Jay Lerner wrote that on opening night in Toronto, "The show ran four and a half hours! The curtain came down at twenty minutes to one. Only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder contest."
Was Lerner's Account Correct?
Some degree of colorful exaggeration (or simple misremembering) on Lerner's part may have been involved in his account. The day after the opening, a report from Toronto appeared in The New York Times, written by Lewis Calta, a theatre columnist for the paper who had traveled to Toronto to report on the opening.
Calta's article states that the curtain was scheduled to rise at 8:30, but "it wasn't until ten minutes later that [conductor] Franz Allers raised his baton to play the national anthems of this country and the United States."
Calta wrote that the curtain rose at 8:50. (The ten minutes between Allers raising his baton and the curtain rising were presumably taken up not only with the playing of the two anthems but also with the show's overture.) According to Calta, the curtain came down at 12:20.
If Calta's account is correct, the show, including intermission, ran about three-and-a-half hours. Calta confirmed these times in a Times column that appeared on October 10, also specifically stating that the performance "ran for three hours and thirty minutes."
In all likelihood, Calta was correct as other contemporary news items also mention a three-and-a-half hour running time for the early performances.
During the pre-Broadway Toronto run, Alan Jay Lerner was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer and had to withdraw from work on the show for a time during tryouts. Director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack, and Lerner took over (uncredited) as director. In Boston, Lerner was still looking for a new director. He went so far as to ask José Ferrer, but Ferrer declined.
Mary Millar was brought in to be Julie Andrews' standby during the run in Boston, and she was still listed as the standby through at least opening night on Broadway. By December 19, however, she was no longer listed. Leesa Troy was the only understudy until some time in January, when Inga Swenson was hired as standby.
The date on which the revised and shortened version of the show — the version in which both "Then You May Take Me to the Fair" and "Fie on Goodness!" were cut, and some other revisions were made — was first performed for audiences seems to have been March 20, 1961.
This was the week after three leading members of the cast — Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet — had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and performed several numbers. That appearance has always been pointed to as the time when the public's perception of the show changed from it being viewed as something of a disappointment to it being viewed as a hit that people wanted to see. The Sullivan Show performances were on March 19.
Interestingly, Burton missed the performance on Tuesday, March 21, and was out again on Wednesday and perhaps on Thursday as well, according to news reports at the time. A virus was said to have been the cause. His understudy, John Cullum, substituted for him. Perhaps having rehearsed the changes and the Sullivan Show performances the previous week while also performing the opening-night version of the show left him a bit run down.
On March 8, 1959, the theatre column in the New York Times mentioned Laurence Harvey as a candidate for the role of Lancelot. Harvey would not, of course, play Lancelot in the original production, but he would eventually play Arthur in the show's London production.
During the Broadway run, a number of changes were made to the cast list in the playbill. Some characters disappeared, new characters appeared, and the placement of some characters relative to others changed.
Helena Scott replaced Inga Swenson as standby for Guenevere in September or October 1961. Toward the end of her time as standby, Swenson was filming The Miracle Worker, but her contract for the film stipulated that she always be close enough to New York to be at the Majestic Theatre in time if she was needed to play Guenevere. If she ever went on in the role, it seems to have been unreported.
Similarly, Helena Scott remained as standby after she opened in the Off-Broadway musical The Banker's Daughter. It was agreed that if Julie Andrews was out, Camelot would take precedence, and Scott's understudy would go on for her in The Banker's Daughter.