Welcome to “Spamalot,” where Arthur is king, his knights aren’t what they seem and Fred isn’t dead — yet.
There will come a time when Fred is finally thrown onto the pile of Bubonic Plague victims, but not before the cast of Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” sings “I’m Not Dead Yet.”
It’s a song based on one of the classic lines from the 1975 film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” on which this Broadway musical is based.
Eric Idle, a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, not only adapted “The Holy Grail” for stage, but added some of the group’s classic TV skits to this version of King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail.
But no quest is without problems. Arthur has no horse. His servant, Percy, played by Michael Ruffin, adequately produces horse hoof sound effects with a coconut shell as the two face off against the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the French Taunters, the Knights who say “Ni!” and the invincible Black Knight, who keeps fighting even after all of his limbs have been severed.
Monty Python fans will understand all of these references, including the show’s title. The spin on Arthur’s kingdom Camelot is a shout out to the Pythons’ song tribute to Spam: “We eat ham, and jam, and Spam a lot.” Not the email kind but the canned meat. The knights even sing the song’s chorus during the show.
Theatre Baton Rouge veteran Albert Nolan stars as Arthur, his dream role.
“And he’s great, because he understands the Monty Python humor so well,” says Jenny Ballard, managing artistic director. “The whole cast understands it, and there are times when we have to stop in the middle of rehearsal because we’re laughing so hard.”
Meanwhile, Terry Byars speculated about his three roles — Sir Bedevere, Prince Herbert’s father and Not Yet Dead Fred. “I’m 64, and I have to fall down 81 times,” he says of his Fred role. “Why is it that I’m older, yet I’m taking more falls that anyone else?”
Theatre Baton Rouge will be the capital city’s first theater company to stage “Spamalot.”
“This is deceptively a huge show, and it’s the biggest we’ve staged so far,” Ballard says. “And I have to say that this is possibly the best cast I’ve ever worked with. Sometimes, it’s hard to take them seriously because we’re all having such a good time. When we floated the idea of doing this as our September production, I said that it had to be only on the condition that I would get to direct it.”
The actors Ballard chose to portray knights may be top-notch, but they’re playing a ragtag bunch.
“He (Arthur) really doesn’t have much to choose from,” Nolan says.
Sir Robin, played by Tyler Grezaffi, and Lance Parker, as Sir Lancelot, are disposing of plague victims, and Dennis Galahad — later Sir Galahad — played by Curran Latas, is a peasant.
“Sir Robin is called Sir Robin the Brave, but he doesn’t live up to his title,” Grezaffi says.
“And Lancelot is a violent man, but something happens later that makes him realize he has a softer side,” Parker says.
Parker said when he was a teenager his friends nicknamed him Lancelot because of his first name.
And just when Arthur starts making headway, the spotlight is stolen by the Lady of the Lake, played by Marion Bienvenu, who just starred in the theater’s August musical “Next to Normal.”
The Lady of the Lake is the mythical character who gave Arthur his sword Excalibur.
“She’s also a diva, and she thinks she is on the same caliber of the pop diva singers,” Bienvenu says, laughing. “She’s actually on stage for only 25 minutes of the show, but she’s the main focus every time she’s on.”
She’s also backed by the Laker Girls — the cheerleading kind. They aren’t found in any of the Arthurian stories, but this isn’t “Camelot,” afterall — it’s “Spamalot.”