King Arthur. Sir Lancelot. The Knights Who Say “Ni.” The Lady of the Lake.
Make no mistake: they are not dead yet.
Fans of the classic comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail have been watching, re-watching, and obsessively quoting it for years, and with good reason. Conservatively speaking, it’s one of the funniest movies ever made. And, as Broadway fans (and fans of touring Broadway productions) have discovered, it’s also a rollicking good time as a stage musical.
This week, Parkland College Theatre presents its own production of Eric Idle’s all-singing-all-dancing Round Table romp with a big, talented cast of familiar faces and local favorites.
I spoke with the show’s director, Dallas Street, about various production-related topics as he nears opening night.
Smile Politely: There are all sorts of good reasons to bring Spamalot to the Parkland stage. What were yours, specifically?
Dallas Street: Spamalot is a show that Parkland Theatre has wanted to do for a while that has only recently become available for amateur performance. It’s 100% an “audience show.” There’s nothing quite like hearing a full house having a great time at the theatre. There are no heavy concepts. I haven’t set it on the planet Neptune. It’s a wonderful vehicle for a bunch of actors to goof around and perform some very funny sketches. It’s a big show. We have some amazing sets and costumes planned. Also, Spamalot is a show that should bring in a whole new crowd to our theatre, and that’s always a plus. It’s silly. It’s Monty Python. It’ll be a very fun night out.
SP: You’ve had some experience with musicals based on classic comic films. When staging them, does the film version have any influence, or do you view the musical as its own separate entity?
Street: I’ve really only directed one previous show based on a movie and that was Hairspray. I was already a fan of the John Waters movie and the subsequent musical when I directed it at the Station Theatre a few summers back. I think I watched the film once to see how it developed into the show it is. It was the same case with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I hadn’t seen the movie since my college days, but I did watch it again once to get the original flavor of the piece. Even though most of the scenes in the musical are lifted directly from the movie, the show is its own animal. The actors aren’t bound to give the original Python troupe’s performances. It’s up to them whether or not they want to watch it.
SP: You’ve directed some awfully big shows in the area. Not just popular, but with HUGE casts. Is there a secret to managing so many people?
Street: With musicals, I usually work from the outside in. I stage the large numbers first, direct a lot of traffic, get the show on its feet as fast as possible, restage any problem areas, finesse, and then try to run the show as much as possible so the actors have time to explore, play, and discover. Big casts are tough. You really stretch yourself thin in rehearsals trying to be as attentive as possible to everyone’s needs. There are a lot of great musical numbers in Spamalot. I’m so glad Whitney Havice (co-choreographer, pictured, left) and myself are past the staging/choreography phase. Whitney has been a great help, especially with the tap dance sections.
SP: In addition to being a big cast, you also have a group of actors who are great fits for their parts. But, that having been said… If you were to play any of these roles yourself, which would you tackle?
Street: I am extremely pleased with this cast (including Michael Steen and Marah Sotelo, pictured, right, in a scene from Parkland’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood). They’re a great bunch of actors from this community and outlying communities as well as some great Parkland students, and there’s even one high schooler. As I watch the run-throughs, I don’t really find myself wishing I were in the show, so if I were forced to choose, I’d tackle the role of “Sir Not Appearing in this Show.”
SP: Final question, and a little off topic. With The Producers, Spamalot, Bullets Over Broadway, and other popular comedy films making their way to the stage, are there any movies you can think of that would make good musicals?
Street: I think 1991’s Soapdish has a great structure for a musical comedy, and I’m happy to hear that someone is finally working on it. I used to think Tootsie would make a good musical, but now I think it’s best left alone. I don’t think it would add anything to musicalize it. I would, however, like to see an intimate version of the 1998 Jude Law romantic comedy Music From Another Room. I think that could be a very charming piece. I recently saw Heathers-The Musical off Broadway and had a blast. Smart adaptation, snappy score—and I found myself with tears in my eyes a couple of times. Movie-to-musical adaptations don’t bother me the way they once did. They just have to be smartly done. I think Spamalot is very smartly done, and I’m looking forward to seeing it with some packed houses.
Monty Python’s Spamalot runs April 17th through May 3rd. For tickets to this sure-to-be-popular show, visit the Parkland website or call the box office at 217-351-2528. Please note that the special pre-show dinner on April 18th is sold out, but there are still seats available for the show itself.