And now for something completely different — and zany and brilliant. The Ziegfeld Theater heads to silly old England with a staging of “Spamalot,” the musical based on the cult classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
A smash hit for years on Broadway, where it won the Tony Award for best musical in 2005, “Spamalot” follows the quest of the legendary King Arthur and his quirky Knights of the Round Table as they search for the holy grail.
They are assisted — but mostly thwarted —along the way by a cast of unforgettable characters including The Lady of the Lake and her Laker Girls, French taunters, the psychotic Black Knight, Tim the Enchanter, the Knights who says “Ni!,” Not Dead Fred, a terrifying killer rabbit and even God.
“I see ‘Spamalot’ as a giant pop-up book,” said director Trent Cox, a Weber State University theater student who is leading the production team and cast in the show, which opens Friay, June 14, at the theater in South Ogden.
In addition to his cast of 18, who bring to life 60 characters, Cox is being assisted behind the scenes by former and current WSU theater students Rick Rea on music, Kalyn West on choreography, Austin Stephensen on technical design and Sarah Knowles Baldwin on costumes.
Dennis Ferrin, who just retired from Layton High School after leading that school’s theater program for 36 years, is creating the scenic design for the show.
With that team, Cox is working to create a theatrical treat that will have audience members laughing themselves silly and leaving the theater looking on the bright side of life.
“I think everything should jump off the stage and be bright and colorful,” said Cox. “It should be great and wonderful — like a Disneyland dark ride — where you are transported into this other world where it’s goofy, yet believable at the same time.”
“Spamalot” includes moments, characters and comedy “lovingly ripped off” (according to the musical’s national publicity material) from the original 1975 motion picture, but the storyline diverges from the movie.
Arthur and company are searching for the grail, but they are also on a quest to stage an elaborate musical worthy of Broadway. The musical incorporates a Broadway-style score with music by Eric Idle, John Du Prez and Neil Innes. Idle, who was a member of the Monty Python’s comedic troupe, also wrote the lyrics and book for “Spamalot.”
“It pays homage to the old-style, glory days and golden age of Broadway,” said Aaron James Cole, who is playing Lancelot in the Zig production.
“It’s the show that made me want to go into theater and become a comedian,” said Cole, who is also studying theater at WSU and has starred in several productions at the Zig over the past year. “I would have taken any part they would have given me.”
Aaron James Cole is a huge fan of the show, as is Andrew Cole (no relation), the actor playing the deadpan and earnest King Arthur.
In fact, Andrew Cole and fiancee Becky Hunt, who is also in the show, are such fans that the day after “Spamalot” opens, they are getting married, appearing in the Saturday night performance, heading off on a short honeymoon and then returning in time to perform in the following week’s shows.
“This will be the first show in which we will perform together as husband and wife,” said Andrew Cole; the two also operate the new Playbills’ Theatre in Clearfield.
That may be devotion, but not unexpected for die-hard Monty Python fans who can often quote entire passages from the beloved, irreverent British movie.
“If they (audience members) are ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ fans, this show is going to give them exactly what they want to see, plus more,” Cox said.
No one is safe in “Spamalot,” which pokes fun at Broadway with songs such as “The Song That Goes Like This,” a never-ending, swelling duet between Sir Galahad and Lady of the Lake — who are trying to one-up each other; and “The Diva’s Lament,” in which an embittered Lady of the Lake bemoans her lack of stage time.
The show takes another unexpected turn with Lancelot’s storyline. The character’s secrets come spilling out in the second act during a wildly funny disco routine called “His Name Is Lancelot.”
“He feels the rhythm and beat,” Aaron Cole said of the number. “Even though his body seems to get it, his mind isn’t quite there .... he is not the shiniest apple in the bushel.”
Some of Aaron Cole’s other favorite musical moments come in the catchy “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” film; and “Knights of the Round Table,” when King Arthur and the knights arrive in Camelot, which resembles more of a spectacular Las-Vegas-style resort than it does a dank, medieval castle.
“It is fantastic,” the actor said.
In addition to Lancelot, Aaron Cole is playing Tim the Enchanter, the French Taunter and the head knight of the Knights who say “Ni.” Because of the highly comical nature of the script, which lends itself to some improv, both Aaron Cole and Andrew Cole said they are having fun with their castmates to see which ones they can get to break character.
Andrew Cole may have the toughest job keeping a straight face, since King Arthur takes himself so seriously, and there is a whole lot of wackiness going on around him.
“The deadpan nature of his character makes him even funnier,” he said. “We’re trying to get the laughs out in the rehearsal process.”
Andrew Cole said he and the cast are working hard to present a show that is funny and professional. “This show is going to be amazing,” he said. “It’s a really good production, it’s funny and everyone is taking it seriously.”
In directing the show, which he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Cox said he has tried to emphasize the show’s stirring anthem “Find Your Grail,” which offers the key to happiness and the meaning of life.
“Find your purpose and find your passion in life and follow it .... find your true self and stay true to what you want to be, what you want to do in this life and what you were put on this Earth to be,” Cox said. “Find your grail.”
ARTHUR: “God be praised. We have a quest: to find the grail!”
SIR ROBIN: “The quail!”
ARTHUR: “No, the grail. The vessel used at the last supper.”
SIR ROBIN: “They had a boat at the last supper? Was it a sort of dinner cruise?”
SIR GALAHAD: “The grail is a cup.”
SIR ROBIN: “God the almighty and all-knowing has misplaced a cup?”