MLOC are bringing King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to the Phoenix Theatre, Elwood in Monty Python’s Spamalot (lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The original 2005 Broadway production was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, and took home the biggest category of the night – Best Musical.
With “Holy Grail” celebrating its 40th birthday this year, a recent tour by the Python boys and an enduring cult following, I spoke to Sam Marzden (King Arthur), Jane Court (Director) and Ian Nisbet (Musical Director) about how they were introduced to Spamalot, what drew them to the show, how they feel about stepping into the Monty Python world and other silly things.
“When Spamalot opened on Broadway, I was in my third year of uni, and around that time I was devouring as many cast recordings as I possibly could,” said Mr Nisbet. “I remember being particularly excited about this show, not only because I was a massive Python fan throughout my teen years (yes, I was one of those kids who would memorise and quote entire sketches just for fun), but also because of the prospect of more music from the writing team of Eric Idle and John Du Prez. John wrote the score for the Python’s Meaning of Life, which I’d call my favourite Python film if I didn’t love them all equally.”
So what drew Sam Marzden to the show? “This is actually the first musical I’ve performed in. I’m a failed comedian and rock singer by trade and it had never occurred to me to try out for a show until my singing teacher insisted I go for something. I was drawn to Spamalot because I was one of those unbearable teenage Python nerds who cringed and mocked if anyone quoted lines from the Cheese Shop sketch incorrectly. So I figured I’d already know most of the script of Spamalot.”
Given they are all fans, how did they all feel about stepping into the Monty Python world in a professional capacity?
“In a word, hilarious,” says Mr Nisbet. “The show could stand up on the songs alone, in my mind, but now that we’re into runs I’m starting to think that the songs are more there to connect the scenes than the other way around. The songs are brilliant, and obviously I’m biased towards the music side of things, but this libretto, in the hands of these performers, is something I’m really looking forward to.”
King Arthur himself spoke to me about the part of the show he is most looking forward to, and the song is a favourite among theatre fans. Mr Marzden told me his personal favourite scene is when he gets to sit at the front of the stage and watch the aggressively talented Matthew Hadgraft (Sir Robin) and ensemble perform the ultimate show stopper “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”. Sam explains “During the applause break I’m anticipating this number will get, I’m planning on being able to fit in a toilet visit, grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some emails before I get back to deliver the punch line. Oh! Also I get to kiss a pretty girl (Lisa Nightingale – Lady of the Lake). For a guy who knows all the words to the cheese shop sketch this is actually a pretty big deal.”
As a big Python fan myself, and also a Spamalot lover, I was curious to find out if the show had had to change elements for Australian audiences. “You have to be so careful when presenting Monty Python,” commented Ms Court. “So any changes are really interpretations in line with the strengths of the cast. Our King Arthur is a great humourist who performed his own show at the Melbourne Fringe Festival recently and he brings an energy to the role that works brilliantly. I love that the cast bring their own interpretations to their roles.”
So how did a comedian and self professed first time musical theatre performer get involved with the production? Mr Marzden claims his ‘ridiculous’ hipster beard did not hurt his audition to play a medieval king. “Jane assured me the beard had absolutely nothing to do with it. So I asked if I could shave it off and I received an emphatic NO! I’ve been growing it for 10 months and I’m planning on tearing it out of my face and jumping on it during the curtain call closing night. Strangers touch it. It’s weird.”
The magnificent beard, in all of it’s splendour.
I was also curious to find out what the production team thought of the cult appeal of Python, Holy Grail and in turn, Spamalot.
Mr Nisbet told me that he’d recently had a discussion with someone on Facebook who was arguing that all comedy is at someone’s expense and those being victimised should just accept that fact. He disagreed, citing the Python catalogue as an example of timeless situational comedy that holds it’s humour across age, era, and even language. “You don’t need to laugh at other people to be funny, and I believe Python is a fantastic example of that,” he commented.
Ms Court concurs, saying that the impact of Monty Python on comedy cannot be underestimated and they have in many ways defined the pathways comedy generally takes. “In Monty Python and the Holy Grail they took a well-known story and gave it fun and silliness and with a touch of commentary on society and its expectations. It’s a cult because people are so passionate about it. To be a Monty Python fan, you probably have a particular sense of humour, one that enjoys ridiculousness. Spamalot is great fun for audiences and allows them to laugh just for the fun and silliness.”
Still not sure if Spamalot is for you? I’ll leave it up to the King to have the final word.
“This show is so much fun. The talent behind it is incredible and I’ve loved being part of it. Also it’s a pretty short show too so you can come see it and do something afterwards! How good is that? Unlike Wicked. What was that? Like 3 hours? And there wasn’t even tap dancing horses in that.”
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