Get ready for knight time: ‘Spamalot’ hits Cygnet Theatre stage
If an unassuming little bunny can lay waste to a gang of semi-brave knights (and it definitely can — that rabbit’s dynamite!), a midsize theater company such as Cygnet can manage to take on a sprawling Broadway musical the likes of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
All it takes is a little theatrical sleight-of-hand and, of course, a healthy dose of can-do optimism. As the song goes: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Four years ago, Cygnet artistic director Sean Murray starred as King Arthur in Moonlight Stage Productions’ local premiere of “Spamalot,” the show derived from the works of those demented Brits in the comedy troupe Monty Python.
That production was more or less a remount of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production; it was directed by longtime cast member Brad Bradley (a protege of original director Mike Nichols), and even used the same sets.
Not long after, says Murray, “I started thinking: ‘I bet that giant show could be corralled into our theater,’” meaning Cygnet’s relatively cozy space in Old Town.
The question was: “How do we get away with a tinier version of that?”
And the answer? To do it as a kind of “children’s fairy-tale pop-up version of the story” — one that goes back to the seat-of-the-pants ethos of Monty Python’s “Flying Circus” TV show, and has a little fun with the winking notion that the musical is too big for the space.
“We’re using a lot more animation in our version than in the original,” Murray says, noting that oddities of scale also will become a kind of running joke in the production, which he is directing himself.
The trick, he says, is to keep a straight face when the gags (and Spam, and homicidal rabbits) are flying all around you.
“The Pythons are so funny because they take all this lunacy very seriously,” he says. “It’s a matter of kind of getting out of the way and letting it do its thing.”
Of course, maybe easier said than done: “It’s hard to play the straight man when you’re a big, honkin’ ham like I am.”
On the ‘Spamalot’ hot seat
You’ll recall that in the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a sorcerer forces King Arthur and his knights to answer three questions before they can cross the Bridge of Death.
Accordingly, we asked King Arthur (aka “Spamalot” director-star Sean Murray) to Answer We These Questions Three. (In typical pompous Arthurian fashion, he insisted on speaking of himself in the third person.)
What is your name?
Arthur, King of the Brits — as Arthur is constantly telling anybody who will listen.
Arthur is a man who’s looking for knights to join his round table. Arthur feels as though he is doing “The Lion in Winter” (the pulpy James Goldman play about King Henry II). And as he looks around and sees that no one else in this play is doing “The Lion in Winter,” it causes him great confusion. And he’s never quite sure why no one is taking this seriously.
What is your quest?
Arthur has his knights out looking for this grail. I think he thinks he’s looking for the cup that was used at the Last Supper. But eventually he discovers that the grail is something metaphorical. It’s more finding that light — that thing that burns within you and gives you hope and drives you forward. That’s what I think he discovers — that the grail is more than a cup. Or, as he says: “It’s more than a missing mug!”
What … is your favorite color?
Blue. No — yellow!
(Note: Murray was last seen being cast into the Gorge of Eternal Peril.)
“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
When: In previews. Opens Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 5.
Where: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.
Phone: (619) 337-1525
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