Monty Python’s SPAMALOT

Pit & Balcony Theatre Explores the Anarchic Humor, Memorable Music, and Challenging Staging of Monty's Python's Broadway Breakthrough

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 800   By: Robert E Martin

06th November, 2014     0

Back in 1975, in a time long-long ago that much of mankind hath forgot, there was an irreverent comedy troupe from England called Monty Python’s Flying Circus that created a breakthrough film entitled Monty Python & the Holy Grail, which was a highly irreverent parody of the classic legend of King Arthur, who according to medieval histories, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century, and developed his legendary Knights of the Round Table. 

In the hands of Python, however, humor looms larger than legend, with absurdist gestures and grandiose ironies leading to a larger wisdom that trigger reactions most commonly described as the classic belly laugh. Where else in depicting an overview of Medieval England will you find Finnish villagers and the Mayor singing the ‘Fisch Schapping Song’ with ten men slapping ten women in the face with ten tiny fish?
First seen on British television in 1969 with the series "Monty Python's Flying Circus," this group of Oxbridge-erudite young Brits (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle) and one American soul mate (Terry Gilliam) combined the anarchy of the Marx Brothers with a rarefied British spirit of absurdity and a straight-faced irreverence regarding all sacred cows. "The Holy Grail" stayed true to the formula of the Python television series, channeling the troupe's vision of a disjointed world of colliding sensibilities and cultural references into a retelling of the myth of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Consequently, 30 years after Holy Grail became an underground film classic and transformed Monty Python into a worldwide phenomenon, the comedy troupe decided to transform their classic film into a Broadway production, changing the name to Spamalot and re-visitng the subject matter. Monty Python stalwart Eric Idle and composer John Du Prez adapted Grail into a musical featuring the Knights Who Say Ni, accused witches and swipes at Vegas glitz and Broadway conventions, all which fed upon the original film’s anarchic spirit.

Much of the joy of "The Holy Grail" lies in its imaginative use of its low budget, turning limited locations and homemade props into a comment on the bogusness of cinematic authenticity. And the cast peerlessly delivered its fatuous material with unconditional sincerity

Originally the 2005 Broadway production of Spamalot was directed by Mike Nichols and received 14 Tony Award nominations, securing 3 awards including ‘Best Musical’, largely for its ecumenical brilliance and spot-on wisdom delivered through both a script and songwriting that featured Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, which was also featured in Python’s Life of Brian.

And now as the holiday season approaches, Saginaw’s Pit & Balcony Theatre is bringing an elaborate musical staging of Spamalot to area audiences in a series of performances that will run for two weekend, Thursday thru Sunday, from December 5-7th and 12-14th. And as P&B Board President Martha Humphreys puts it: ‘In what over play can the audience hear the Voice of God, see a killer rabbit, and witness a Broadway show within a show?”

While Spamalot cannot be called a ‘traditional’ Christmas play, according to P&B Board President Martha Humphreys, “The theatre felt this play is so funny, silly, outrageous, and unique, that it filled that holiday slot perfectly. For Python fans, it’s a must see and for anyone who doesn’t know Monty Python, then It’s even more of a must see.”

“All the time & energy will be well worth it when people see this production,” continues Humphreys. “With a cast of over 20 and nearly 100 costumes, Spamalot is quite an undertaking for Pit & Balcony. There are a lot of challenges with costuming and props. Fortunately, we have a great costume house-staff that have been working on this for a couple months. There are numerous dance numbers as well, and happily the talented Candy Kotze agreed to choreograph the show.”
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In selecting the cast for Spamalot, Director Jim Gaertner is enthusiastic at the broad array of talent he was able to draw for Spamalot throughout the Great Lakes Bay theatrical community. “We have several cast members that were drawm from Midland, Clio, Essexville and Birch Run,” he explains. “This is great because a lot of local community theatres are sharing their talent. Everybody wins! Our Musical Director, Jan Sutherland, is also from Midland and she’s bringing out every ounce of singing talent the cast has. And our Choreographer Candy Kotze has a talent for making dancers look like they’ve been dancing for years.”

In reflecting upon the cast, Gaertner says David King of Midland (King Arthur) possesses a “great voice and carries himself well. When you see him on stage you’re seeing King Arthur.” Saginaw’s Ryan King tackles the role of Sir Robin, while Sir Galahad and The Lady of the Lake are performed by Midland’s  Brad Philips & Dawn Davis. “Both have beautiful singing voices and are superb with role characterization. Andrew Fergerson of Birch Run) portrays Sir Lancelot along with several different characters, each requiring a different voice & characterization, along with the ability to remember which character he is playing when. Trust me, that’s no easy task. Everyone in the cast has a great working attitude and are putting forth a solid effort at rounding out the overall prodution with a high quality of on-stage precence and performance.”

As to what fe feels distinguishes Spamalot and makes it such a strong and viable work of contemporary theatre, Gaertner points to the legendary talents of Monty Python itself. “They have a huge following. The show has crazy characters and sight gags. It’s basically a spoof on Broadway musicals. There’s also an audience participation bit which is always fun for those not called up on stage. I’ve seen the show three times, and now that I’m directing it and reading the script, seeing it in rehearsal I’m finding things I missed in all three of those productions. There’s just so much going on all the time that you can’t catch all of the asides, bits of business and so on.”

From a directorial perspective, Gaertner says the biggest challenge is “the sheer size of the production. Apart from the technical aspects, numerous props and costumes, moveable set pieces, and individuals playing multiple characters, the Black Knight character has to lose both arms and legs while on stage! That’s a real challenge and you have to see how we make this happen.”

As a fun aside, Humphreys’ notes how P&B would like to build a castle created of cans of Spam in the lobby. “We’re encouraging anyone who wants to drop off cans or cases of it to do so. It’s the holiday season and people are in the grocery stores frequently, so they add a can or two of Spam to their shopping list and drop it off at Pit & Balcony.  At the end of the run all the Spam will be donated to the East Side Soup Kitchen. It seemed like a fun project and a way to give back to our community.”

And in similar seasonal alignment, P&B is also selling Seasons’ Greetings tickets in a gift box for using as Christmas Stocking Stuffers, or to reward a diligent employee. The tickets are good for any show during the remainder of the season and can be purchased for only $20 each at the theatre.

“We had one patron buy several for his employees, but he was so excited that he gave them out a couple weeks ago – we know because two employees came in and exchanged their gift certificates for tickets to Spamalot!”

Tickets are available at www.pitandbalcony.com or at the box office Tuesday - Friday from noon -5:00 pm.  Price is $22.  Pit does offer a discount price for groups of 10 or more. You can also purchase tickets by phoning the box office at 989.754.6587. 

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