- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

Social swells couldn’t help reminiscing about “Camelot” at the Nov. 20 opening-night gala for a new production of the famed Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe musical at Arena Stage.

“I remember seeing ‘Camelot’ in London with Laurence Harvey playing King Arthur,” said Lucky Roosevelt, whose choice anecdote about an uproarious cast party at the Connaught Hotel was strictly off the record during cocktail hour in Arena’s Fitchandler lobby.

Victor Shargai remembered “Camelot,” too, especially since he worked backstage on costumes when it played on Broadway in the early ‘60s. “I took Richard Burton’s chain mail to him in his dressing room,” the interior designer drawled later at dinner. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Alas, not everyone had similar boasting rights.

“I remember not seeing ‘Camelot,’” said real estate investor Conrad Cafritz, who didn’t much care for musicals until “Hair” opened in 1968.

Organizers toiled to infuse the $200-to-$1,000-a-pop event with an Arthurian aura that included an opulent tent, court music, towering arrangements of multicolored roses by florist Jack Lucky and heavy tapestry-like fabrics and goblet-style glassware on the tables, which were, by the way, square as well as round. Dinner was a modern interpretation of a medieval feast featuring seafood terrine, rack of lamb and apple charlotte.

“We wanted to capture the romance associated with the musical,” said event co-chairwoman Andrea Weiswasser, making the scene in a long velvet jacket and high-necked blouse with a lace collar.

Co-chairwoman Michele Berman made it clear that “Camelot’s” romantic but ill-fated association with the Kennedy White House was cause for concern when the board realized the musical was scheduled to open the same week as the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“It was entirely coincidental. No one realized that the dates were so close because the season was planned a year in advance,” Mrs. Berman said.

“Dealing with the Arthurian legend is what was important to us,” said Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, who nonetheless cited Mr. Lerner’s opinion that “Camelot,” which only enjoyed moderate success on Broadway, was “truly born” the moment Jacqueline Kennedy told Life magazine that her husband had listened to a recording of its title song over and over again in the days before his death.

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

The musical, Ms. Smith noted, continues to symbolize the same issues of leadership and peace it did for audiences 40 years ago.

“Back then, political moments like the Bay of Pigs caused people to fear where their country was heading; now the situation is equally charged. We have the feeling the whole world is at war.”

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