Spammin’ it up
The Weekend Theater calls on Monty Python classic to fill schedule gap.
There’s something to be said for putting a production together with the speed of an unladen swallow, particularly when the show is Spamalot!, the stage adaptation (of sorts) of the classic 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
And there was most certainly haste involved in adding the show, which opens Friday, to this season’s lineup at The Weekend Theater, said director John Haman. Casting complications led to a dropped show in the schedule, and it was Spamalot!, which tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table seeking the Cup of Christ, that was tapped to fill it. Quickly. Indeed, with less than a week until opening, Haman recalls it was scarcely a month and a half ago that he got asked if he wanted to do the show. And, of course, there’s only one answer to that question.
“I was the typical teenage kid in the ’80s, watching Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life and Holy Grail,” says Haman, who added he wouldn’t go so far as to call himself a diehard Python buff. He’s not able to rattle off every quote in every Flying Circus skit or anything. But, being familiar with the material, he was interested because of the new stage opportunity it would present.
“I’ve never directed a musical,” he says, noting he was inspired by fellow TWT director Byron Taylor. “So if I had the chance to do this, it would be a perfect entree into the musical world.”
That’s because Spamalot! is, above all, a musical. A “big dance” musical. As Haman describes, it’s basically like the original writers, including Python’s own Eric Idle, took the “Camelot” song from the original film — which, incidentally, is where the play gets its name — and turned it into a stage show. And it’s one replete with all the signature songs and steps and is totally self-aware and willing to make fun of itself for all of it.
“It does what all great collaborations do in musical theater. It takes all the great points like Not Dead Fred, and turns them into songs,” says Haman.
So how does one conjure a big musical in about 45 days? Well, for Haman (who is not an enchanter, though he has one in the show) it meant rescheduling a vacation to get auditions in and then using his entire week off to put together a game plan so cast and crew could get a jump on it.
“I’ve never done that,” Haman laughs, noting another directorial first. “Rehearsals started the day I got back.”
Working piece by piece, the choreography and music have come together, and the end result is all any Python fan could want: peasants debating politics, chanting monks, rude Frenchmen and even a killer bunny. Of course, the show isn’t without its own twists, including the show-stopping (literally) Lady of the Lake and a Vegas-style lounge in Camelot. It’s something any audience can appreciate, whether they know the source material or not, says Haman.
“It certainly stands on its own, even if you’ve never seen Monty Python anything,” he said. “My kids, who are 10 and 7 — though we had to do some explaining about a few naughty words — have really enjoyed it, and they’ve never seen the movie.”
Part of that appeal, said Haman, is the venue itself. While the intimacy of The Weekend Theater does have certain technical limitations — there won’t be a giant boat sailing in from stage left or actors dropping down from the rafters, for example — the venue does offer audiences a connection to show and players that bigger venues don’t. As a result, it’s easier to get absorbed into the show, Haman says.
And speaking of bigger venues, it’s not lost on the folks behind the production that a big touring staging of Spamalot! was just at Robinson Center in April. Far from being a detriment, the tour actually helped create interest, Haman says. People may want to see the play again or missed the tour’s run, which was only two days. This show will run for the next three weekends.
“I don’t think it hurts at all.” Haman said. “I think it helps.”
As Spamalot!, itself, will help The Weekend Theater, well-known for usually staging more heady, issue-oriented productions filled with social commentary.
“Every once in a while we need money to fill up the coffers, as the regular fare often depletes the bank account,” said TWT’s artistic director Ralph Hyman via email. “So, we put in something like Spamalot!, which brings in some money, so we can go back to the social issue shows.”
SEE THE SHOW
The Weekend Theater’s production of Spamalot! opens Friday and continues through July 28. Showtime for opening night is 8 p.m. All other performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $20 for adults and $16 for students and seniors age 65 and older. Tickets are available online at weekendtheater.org or at the door, based on availability.