Pardon me, but my age is showing.
I mentioned to a friend that I was going to write on the passing of Robert Goulet.
Robert who? I hung my head. Heavens, but I must be getting old.
I was quickly browsing CNN when I saw a picture of those bright blue eyes, and immediately heard the lyrics of If Ever I Would Leave You dancing through my mind; I was wisked back to Camelot and Goulet as the handsome Lancelot in a tryst with Guinevere. Time travel. 1960. I was ten. Goulet played Lancelot on Broadway opposite Julie Andrews as his queen and legendary Richard Burton as the fabled King Arthur, way back when. Forty plus years ago. Such roles continued beyond Broadway, in those days of summer tent theaters. Goulet later stepped into the role of Arthur (above left) in numerous revivals.
We had one of those summer theaters in our county, a place beyond summer stock, a huge striped tent with a round stage encircled by seating for hundreds of people. Storrowton Music Fair. A dozen shows a season with the vocals by Goulet, and the likes of Howard Keel, Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote to you younger folks who don’t know the era of Mame), Mitzi Gaynor and others of that musical ilk. They came every summer to sing, dance, act, entertain. We went every summer to hear them. If it rained, and it often did, we listened hard to hear over the pounding of downpours on the acres of canvas. And they simply sang louder.
In the late 60s, as I apprenticed with a veteran writer and critic, my sojourns to this theater shifted; suddenly I was accompanying my boss to these productions, enjoying the backstage access, privvy to the interviews that would be tomorrow’s headlines. I drank it in, watching the ease with which most performers sank into these conversations, the ease with which questions were asked and answered. Goulet was no different. Comfortable. Ordinary. Sweating from the lights and the summer humidity in this era before air conditioning. It was hot under those tents, but that didn’t keep anyone away. Nor did it slow the show.
Goulet came into our homes through the Ed Sullivan Show, the Andy Williams Show, and others like it, the bygone age of variety shows. His deep baritone voice and those eyes were instantly recognizable. In those days the music from Camelot led his repertoire, followed by a collection of love songs guaranteed to make his female fans swoon. I Won’t Send You Roses. They Say It’s Wonderful. My Love Forgive Me (which I also learned in Italian). On a Clear Day. The Impossible Dream (Man of La Mancha). Sunrise Sunset (Fiddler on the Roof). This is All I Ask.
In 2005, he was cast in a production of Jerry Herman’s La Cage Aux Folles (book by Harvey Firestein), a stunning tour-de-force musical verson of the French original, parodied by Robin Williams in the comedic film version The Birdcage. In 1983, “Cage” was Broadway’s first gay-themed musical and walked off with major awards for a story and musical score (Song on the Sand, The Best of Times, La Cage Folles theme, I Am What I Am, With Anne On My Arm) that never really received the public play it deserved beyond the realms of Broadway. Goulet played one of the two long-time lovers in a Broadway revival of this historic production. The original show won eight Tony’s and eight Drama Desk awards; the revival won four and three, respectively.
Goulet’s music pops up on Music of Your Life radio stations, and on those musical “retrospective” shows — my, that may me feels even older — but has lost nothing in the translation. When Goulet sang, one felt he was singing to you and only you. In concert style performances in theater in the round, in the days before paranoia and poor manners necessitated security fences, performers like Goulet would sing from the stage, then walk up and down the aisles fanning out from center, pausing the to take the hand of the lucky woman in an aisle seat and sing to her, escort her to stage for a dance, or place a kiss on her cheek. There were other shows as well for Goulet — Kiss Me Kate, Brigadoon, Carousel … Goulet lent his booming voice to all of them.
Ironically, some of these iconic Broadway shows are playing TPAC this season– White Christmas which once starred Mitzi Gaynor and Bing Crosby on celluloid in coming up in November and a revival of Camelot will play next spring. My Fair Lady just ended its run. I look at these titles and fall back in time to my first viewings of these shows — the first times I heard voices like Goulet.
Goulet, 73, Massachusetsts born but raised in Canada, died Tuesday while awaiting a lung transplant, is the most recent in a series of losses of talent that will never, can never be replaced. His recordings are his legacy, a gift that those of us of “a certain age” can listen to and savor.