SPAMALOT: Bay City Players Explore the Anarchic Humor & Musical Mayhem of Monty Python’s Broadway Breakthrough

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 833   By: Robert E Martin

22nd September, 2016     0

Back in 1975 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 even 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," a 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.

Three decades 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-visiting 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.

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 Bay City Players is bringing its own production of Spamalot to area audiences in a series of performances that will run for two weekends, Friday thru Sunday, from October 7-9 & 14-16. Tickets are now on sale by phoning 989-893-5555 or visiting baycityplayers.com.

Spamalot is being directed by Gary Asel and presents his third time at the directorial helm for Bay City Players, having directed its production of Chicago back in 2008 and Cats in 2006 – both ambitious high-octane musicals. Indeed, his forte’ centers around musicals, having developed an interest in musical theatre back when he was at Garber High School; and also directing productions there today, where his son currently attends and also shares his father’s love for the theatre. Gary has also directed 12 seasons of musical theatre for John Glenn’s summer shows.

When asked what he feels truly distinguishes Spamalot in the canon of modern theatre, Asel quickly points to the fact it is “silly British humor at its finest.” In its own unique way, it also takes several swipes at contemporary musicals,” notes Asel. “I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times and went to a showing at the State Theatre and was amazed to see audience members constantly shouting the lines right back to the screen, so in that sense, it has the same audience appeal as Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

As a director are there certain themes Gary is trying to focus and emphasize within the script? “The script has a lot of stage direction besides dialogue to use as a guideline, but I’m not trying to recreate any of the stage productions I’ve seen previously,” he notes. “I’m putting my own spin on things in a few oddball ways. For example, in one scene where the crowd is waving torches and singing, I’m going to have them all waving cell phones over their head, which is much safer than using actual flame and takes things right out of the middle ages and jumps right into the 21st century,” he laughs. “It’s a nod to right now and adds a suitable touch.”

“Farcical comedy is harder to do than traditional theatre precisely because of the timing involved,” reflects Asel. “I’m very blessed with a very experienced cast that are all very good at comedy.  With several of the key roles performed Jake Monroe, Andrew Fergerson, Kurt Miller and Laura Bringham,  Asel is also working with choreographer Angela Street, who worked at The Woodward School of Dance and also partnered with Asel on Chicago and Cats. “I rely upon her heavily,” Gary adds.

Asel says 35 actors showed up to audition for 22 roles in Spamalot and an additional challenging component is the fact it’s such a wide ranging cast, with many of the actors performing different parts, that in addition to all the singing, dancing, and comedic timing involved, they also have to constantly be jumping from one costume into another. “Some have up to five costume changes.”

King Arthur is being performed by Jake Monroe, whom Asels says “even looks like Graham Chapman.” Bay City Players veteran Kurt Miller is playing the role of Patsy the horse. “That role only has about six lines,” notes Asel, “but classic Players audiences will love watching him in this role because he’s so great with physical comedy.” And Midland’s Laura Bringham is playing the Lady of the Lake – an actress that Asel says possesses “an incredible voice and is perfect for the role.”

“If anybody wants to laugh their butt off at silly British humor and enjoy some memorable and hilarious music, such as Always Enjoy the Bright Side of Life, I highly urge them to attend one of our performances,” he concludes.

Comments

Please login to comment

LOGIN

Events

Current Issue

Login

Don't have an account?

CREATE AN ACCOUNT