Standards to Love: The Lusty Month of May
Well, I don’t know about where you are, but here in middle Tennessee, the weather is finally starting to cooperate. For about a month- almost six weeks- we endured obnoxious amounts of rain. And I know the well-trotted out idiom of April showers, but honestly, I didn’t think the idiom meant that the sun would disappear for an entire month.
But, now, as I write, it’s blissfully sunny with just the right amount of heat combined with breeze to make sitting outside perfection. We have a cardinal family nesting in one of our myrtle trees. (The myrtles are in bloom again- really, they are- does anyone get that reference? If not, I'll tell you more in Friday's post.) I’m seeing quite a lot of blue bird activity, too. AND our Canadian geese family has returned and the goose is on the nest. Very exciting things are afoot. All around is twittering and the occasional merry honk from the gander as he paddles around on our pond.
Since the weather had decided to become fine, however, I have found myself singing a Lerner and Loewe song that has been a favorite of mine since I was a tiny tot.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot, but in it there is a fabulous bit of lyrical frivolity called The Lusty Month of May.
The Lusty Month of May is all about being twitterpated. Remember your Bambi? It’s about shirking off the heaviness that comes with winter and fully embracing the new life of spring. It’s about throwing caution to the wind and catching the mad cap gallop of love. It’s about being a bit reckless. A bit irresponsible. A little bit careless. It’s about not being afraid to seize the moment. It’s about laughing and playing and running through the meadow. It’s about being a little wicked, but in the best possible ways.
A great many of the musical numbers in the musical have this playfulness. Camelot chronicles the reign of King Arthur from when he married Guenevere through his inception and implementation of the Round Table to his betrayal by Lancelot.
I wish I could travel back in time and see the original Broadway cast. Julie Andrew (Guenevere), Richard Burton (King Arthur), Robert Goulet (Lancelot). AND Roddy McDowell played Mordred. That had to be quite the performance. As a matter of fact, when this musical debuted on Broadway in 1960, it was so popular that when the original cast recording was released on LP it was the top selling LP for 60 weeks straight in the States. (You can still listen to these recordings. I’ve included a youtube video link that will allow you to listen to the entire playlist.)
As I was not privileged to be alive during those three years (between 1960-1963) that Camelot was on Broadway, I am very happy that Joshua Logan (director of such greats as Fanny, South Pacific, Picnic, and Mister Roberts) chose to helm a film version starring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guenevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot.
The film is one of my favorites. I love everything about it. The set design is superb. As is the choreography.
The costumes are fantastic, too. The wedding dress that Guenevere wears is made completely of natural materials- an intricately crocheted overdress, a distressed velvet underdress, and a train of mesh embroidered with shells and pumpkin seeds. (I believe this is a tip to the time in which the film was made- the ‘60s. This dress- exquisitely designed to appear haute couture but comprised of nature- is just the thing any flower child would have embraced whole heartedly.) The attention to detail that John Truscott paid earned him an award for Best Costume Design for the film. Another notable includes Guenevere’s metal coronation gown (I don’t know how she carried that one; it looks remarkably heavy). In fact, pretty much everything Guenevere wears is fantastic. However, the detailed armor worn by Lancelot, the caps and furs and tunics worn by King Arthur are fabulous as well. It’s a visual feast for the fashionably conscious.
But, what is most memorable about the film- as it should be- is the score. Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe were consummate when it came to composing songs with grand orchestration and witty or heart moving lyrics.
The Lusty Month of May definitely falls under witty more so than heart moving. There are a few parts that absolutely thrill me.
It's May, it's May, the month of "Yes, you may"
The time for every frivolous whim, proper or im-
It's May, it's may, the month of great dismay
when all the world is brimming with fun, wholesome or un-
That sort playfulness really makes me giddy. And, when it comes to this song, giddy is a good thing to be.
No wonder I’ve been singing it so much of late. With the arrival of the sun and the daily opportunity to soak it up (and get burnt by it as well), I’m idling in the idyllic. In fact, the weather has been so sublime, that I almost believe Richard Burton when he sings about the rules governing Camelot:
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
While those may be the rules in Camelot, I know that where I live, no such rulings will legally bind the weather to do my bidding. Alas, such is the way of the world. I have no Merlin to help me conjure atmospheric cooperation. Nor do I have a castle which would assuage this horrid oversight.
However, I have taken a page from the simple folk’s book. Don’t know about the simple folk?
Well, neither did Guenevere, for she was forced to ask King Arthur:
What else do the simple folk do
To pluck up the heart and get through?
And Arthur’s answer is:
Once, upon the road, I came upon a lad
Singing in a voice three times his size
When I asked him why, he told me he was sad
And singing always made his spirits rise
And that's what simple folk do
So, perhaps you find yourself in weather like I am now- halcyon and auriferous. If that’s the case, then the score of Camelot- particularly The Lusty Month of May- is right up your alley.
However, if you’re still in the dregs of weary, wet weather or worse cold weather, then Camelot is also the musical for you. It’s escapist. It’s epic. It’s magical. And, we all need epic, escapist, magical musicals in our lives.
And, on the subject of musicals, is there any particular one that you, dear reader, like? Please, share it. I know I’d like to know what it is.
(*From the song What do the Simple Folk do?)
Post Script: I have a tendency to agree with Joshua Logan when he defended his casting of Vanessa Redgrave rather than Julie Andrews. While Andrews' voice is sublime, Logan believed that she was too innocent and good for the role of Guenevere. He thought Redgrave would infuse Guenevere with a certain femme fatale quality; not that she was necessary wicked as is so often ascribed to the femme fatale, she is mischievous, seductive, and massively attractive. And, as is the way of the femme fatale, she does cause the downfall, not only of men, but of their ideals. All throughout her performance, from the first moment we see her, Redgrave has this wild emotiveness about her, a youthful petulance, an unruly allure that irresistible. While her voice (or voice over, as is the case in the film) is NOT Julie Andrews, the acting more than makes up for this oversight, in my opinion. From the first moment we meet her, I can see how Guenevere gets caught up in the betrayal of her husband and everything she believes in.