Sept. 12--The heavy, rhythmic pounding emanating from the stage sounds like a horde of carpenters must be banging away on the set for "Spamalot," the musical "lovingly ripped off" from the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," that kicks off the Duluth Playhouse's 100th season tonight.
But it turns all that racket is being made by Scott Hebert and Drew Autio, two tap-dancing Knights of the Round Table, apparently living up to the line from their song: "We dance whene'er we're able."
For director Priscilla McRoberts and her cast, many of whom clearly are rabid Monty Python fans, doing this particular musical is a dream come true.
"It's that nostalgia thing," McRoberts said. "You throw out a Monty Python line, and if they come back, you know, you're connected in this deep way. And I feel like this group has come together, around that, in such a really lovely way."
Chris Nollet, who plays Arthur, King of the Britons, concurs: "It has definitely been one of the most fun casts I have ever been with."
Like the movie that spawned it, "Spamalot" lampoons the legend of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail, replacing Guinevere and all that classic love triangle nonsense with the Lady of the Lake, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, and a divine appearance by God.
The musical's title is taken from another line in the movie's Camelot song, wherein the Knights of the Round Table sing "We eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot." Thirty years later, "Spamalot" won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical. The original Broadway cast included Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria and Sara Ramirez.
Appearing knightly in the Playhouse production are: Nathan St. Germain as Sir Lancelot, the Homicidally Brave; Greg J. Anderson as Sir Robin, the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot; David Greenberg as Sir Galahad, the Dashingly Handsome; and Mike Pederson as Sir Bedevere, the Strangely Flatulent. Also featured is Sara Wabrowetz as the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite.
Of course, in true Monty Python tradition, all of the aforementioned knights take turns playing other characters, from French Taunters and Knights of Ni, to Brother Maynard, Tim the Enchanter, and the perennial crowd favorite Black Knight.
"I think I cast well," McRoberts said, "but I also think the director has to create a communal passion for a show, so that everybody is in it to have it be the best, and nobody's got ego, and nobody's got divas -- except for maybe the director, sometimes -- and they are all in it for the good of the show."
Monty Python's Eric Idle, along with his frequent musical collaborator John Du Prez, transformed the movie into a musical, managing to work in his best known song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from "The Life of Bryan," and referencing numerous other Python skits and movies, as well as lampooning several famous Broadway musicals.
The co-directors of the original movie are not overly enamored of the musical version. Terry Gilliam has described "Spamalot" as being "Python-lite," while Terry Jones points out "it isn't really 'Python.' It is very much Eric," adding, "I think the best parts of the musical are the new things."
That would be numbers such as "The Song That Goes Like This," "You Won't Succeed (On Broadway)," and "The Diva's Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part?)," which have fun, respectively, with Andrew Lloyd Webber power ballads, the business of Broadway and how not every part in every show is everything a performer would want.
Ask the Playhouse cast what their favorite part of the show is, and almost universally they mention the Swamp Castle scene.
"The whole thing, from beginning to end, is just so funny," Anderson said, "and people add all the little nuances, just individual character stuff that they add, that's not specifically in the script, but it's in true Monty Python spirit, where if it makes us laugh, then, heck yeah."
Wabrowetz agrees: "The French Taunters, they just crack me up, the accents, everything. I think it's just brilliant."
"I could watch the three of them for four hours because they work off of each other so well," Greenberg said. "It is hilarious every time, because it changes every time."
The other point of universal agreement with this bunch is that Nollet, who admits to having watched every sketch at least three times, is the biggest Monty Python nut in the cast.
"He knows every single word," an impressed Wabrowetz said. "He knew when the script was slightly different from the movie script."
"He comes up with the most obscure things, that, even I need help remembering," McRoberts said.
Anderson said Nollet has added a lot to the show.
"He's like, 'Oh, let's do this from this show' and 'let's do this from the movie' and 'let's throw this in.' "
A gleam entered Anderson's eyes as he nonchalantly acknowledged that the production has "some Easter eggs."
What might audiences expect given such a cryptic comment? A dead parrot? A silly walk? A limited selection of cheese?
Well, if there's one thing Monty Python fans absolutely know, it's this:
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
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