By Tara Bennett
Catapulted rabbits, taunting Frenchmen and a ragtag group of knights led by a kooky king are the recipe for laughter in Monty Python’s Spamalot, Theatre Baton Rouge’s latest production, which opens this week. Tickets are selling fast for this stage musical adaption from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a few shows are almost sold out. Spamalot runs from Sept. 18 through Oct. 4.
“I think this is going to be a really fun, really different production for Theatre Baton Rouge to put out,” said Jenny Ballard-Mayfield, TBR’s artistic director, who is also directing King Arthur and his knights. “I think it’s going to be unlike anything that people have seen.”
Most of you are probably familiar with The Holy Grail, but you might not know its musical adaptation Spamalot. Spamalot was created by Python-veteran Eric Idle and his long-time collaborator John Du Prez and premiered on Broadway in 2005. As the tagline goes, this musical lovingly rips off from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Long story short, King Arthur sets out with his knights to find the Holy Grail after receiving a message from God. Spamalot keeps much from the original movie, but also adds brand new characters like the Lady of the Lake and borrows material from other Python sketches. And, assuming it’s possible, the play is “even sillier” than the film version and is proving to be a grand ol’ time for cast and crew.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun directing a show,” said Ballard-Mayfield, who is a huge fan of Monty Python humor. “It’s just been a blast since day one.”
“This is the first show I’ve ever been involved in where we’ve been so ahead of the game,” said Albert Nolan, who plays King Arthur. “The cast in general is just a wonderful mesh and a wonderful clique. Everyone gets the humor.”
In the beginning stages of the production, Ballard-Mayfield wanted to go as big as possible with the show, and her vision has grown due to the talent and commitment of her cast and crew.
“Everybody is on top of their game, 100 percent,” said Ballard-Mayfield. “This is a show people are going to see with expectation. I definitely do not think this is a show that you take and you put your own creative artistic stamp on it. It’s been a really exciting experience getting everybody to find their inner Monty Python and really committing to this collaborative experience.”
In preparation, Ballard-Mayfield instructed her cast to watch Monty Python and to watch it often. She herself watched and re-watched The Holy Grail almost 400 times to prepare herself as the show’s director due to the fact the film is the direct source material for the musical.
“At least 80 percent of the book is pulled specifically from the movie” she said. “To completely understand the characters and what we’re trying to convey, you have to have a really good understanding the film.”
The cast however won’t be carbon copies of the iconic characters portrayed by Eric Idle and John Cleese. They will have their own comedic touches while honoring the framework Monty Python created.
“I wanted them to have a really good understanding of who these characters were and then to create their own character within their own framework,” said Ballard-Mayfield. “I think the cast has done a wonderful job with that.”
Nolan, who has several years’ acting experience with British comedies says that he feels “like a king” while playing a role he has longed for since he was a child.
“It is absolutely a dream role,” said Nolan. “Get ready to laugh because [the show] is absolutely hilarious.”
To prepare for the role, Nolan drew on his acting experience in playing uppity British men, and also studied Tim Curry who originated the role of King Arthur on Broadway. With Nolan’s experience in British comedy and physical comedy, he is able to bring something new to the iconic role.
“I think my comedic timing is pretty spot on for the role,” said Nolan. “This is possible one of the most enjoyable roles that I’ve ever played, and I feel very honored to be part of this production with my TBR family.”
Fans of the film will also find new things to enjoy with the musical farce. For example The Lady of the Lake, who is only referenced in the film, becomes a full fledge character who proves to be on par with the men, as well as a “real hoot.”
“She’s a complete and utter diva,” said Marion Bienvenu who portrays the Lady. “As the show progresses, she gets tossed into the shadows and she’s not happy about it and she lets the audience know.”
Spamalot will be a change of pace for Bienvenu who was the lead in TBR’s Next to Normal, which focused on mental illness, and is in essence the antithesis of Spamalot due to the heavy subject material.
“I like to tell people there are a lot less tears,” said Bienvenu. “This show is much lighter material.”
This role is a dream role for Bienvenu because she’s a character that gets to be absolutely crazy and sings different vocal genres from other divas in the past.
“It’s a challenge I’ve been ready to accept,” said Bienvenu. “I’m pretty excited.”
According to Ballard-Mayfield, fans or even haters of Monty Python will enjoy this production.
“I think there is literally something for everybody in this show,” said Ballard-Mayfield. “It has a sitcom feel to it sometimes, it has really great music and really great dance numbers. If you like comedy and want to have a good time, this show is for you.”
Performances will be held Thursday through Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m., with one Saturday matinee on September 26 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $28 for individuals, $20 for students with their student IDs. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact the TBR box office at 225-924-6496 or visit theatrebr.org.