For fans of the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the touring production of Spamalot brings the classic jokes and more Monday to a sold-out show at the Valentine Theatre.
Based on the 1975 film, Spamalot is an irreverent retelling of Arthurian legend.
Expect King Arthur, Lancelot, the Black Knight, and the Round Table. But also anticipate a winning new character in the Lady of the Lake.
“Lady of the Lake is such a chameleon in the show, because she does switch around to so many different personas,” said Leslie Jackson, who portrays the Lady. “But she has kind of her own underlying personality. She’s kind of a diva … which is a fun challenge, because I’m not like that at all.”
Written by Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, Spamalot premiered on Broadway in February, 2005, to critical acclaim. More than 2 million theater-goers saw the musical in its initial run, and it was lauded with 14 Tony Award nominations and three wins, including best musical. (Mike Nichols won for best director and Sara Ramirez for best performance by a featured actress for her portrayal of Lady of the Lake.) The original cast also won a Grammy Award for best musical show album.
Monty Python gained fame with its sketch comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which aired on BBC from 1969 and 1974. Troupe members Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin went on to make a series of films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
A longtime fan of Monty Python, Jackson was introduced to the British comedy troupe by friends and cites Holy Grail, The Meaning of Life, and Life of Brian as her favorites.
A familiarity with the Monty Python is beneficial, she said.
“British humor can be so different from the humor that we’re used to in American television and media,” Jackson said. “Sometimes I think certain jokes can slip by, because it’s not something we’re used to in our society.”
The actress, who has a bachelor’s degree in opera and a musical theater certificate from Northwestern University, has had roles in the national touring productions of Cinderella and Ragtime and the international touring production of West Side Story. (Jackson was part of the cast of Cinderella production at the Stranahan Theater in March.)
She counts her role as Sarah in Ragtime among her favorites, but she said she’s excited to test her skills in a comedy. Spamalot, she said is “more challenging and more fun at the same time.”
“It will be really fun to do a lighthearted fun show for a tour,” Jackson said. “It’s a good change.”
The cast is a blend of newcomers and veterans, and she said she’s learned a lot from the Spamalot veterans — some of whom are well-versed in the history and creative process behind the Python brand.
“In a show like this, I’m constantly laughing backstage and onstage and that really helps,” Jackson said. “You don’t have a chance to get inside your head and get worked up with nerves, because everyone is just having fun. You just want to go out there and have fun too.”
Jackson says the introduction of the Lady of the Lake is well integrated into the show. And the actress sees that fans don’t have any preconceived notions about the character as a bonus.
“It gives a little bit more room to play around,” she said. “I have a little more wiggle room to take the outline of this character and fit it to me and make it my own version.”
Still, she says, audience reaction is key in a show like Spamalot.
After spending months rehearsing, she said the jokes can become routine and the cast can begin wonder if the jokes really are funny. She called the preview performances in Utica, N.Y., an exhilarating experience.
“The show felt so fresh again, to have that audience interaction and to hear laughter at jokes that sometime you lose in rehearsal,” she said. “It really helps … get us amped up and see that people are enjoying this. That’s what we want to do, to make something enjoyable for everyone.”
Monty Python’s Spamalot is at the Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St., for one show at 7:30 p.m. Monday. A waiting list for tickets is set up should they become available. For more information, call the box office at 419-242-2787.
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