In the late 1960s, a group of British comic actors created a show for the BBC – with the unlikely name of Monty Python’s Flying Circus – which revolutionized television comedy with an uniquely irreverent, and profoundly silly, blend of taped sketches and filmed links.
In the process they inspired generations of rabid international Python fans who can (and will) recite every syllable of ‘The Parrot Sketch’, among many others, with little or no encouragement.
The cult only intensified when the ‘Pythons’ branched out into film with such titles as And Now For Something Completely Different, Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life – and perhaps the most fondly-remembered, 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which they worked their absurdist magic on Arthurian legends.
The “legs” of the latter project were demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt when, some 20 years later, it became the basis for a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical – in which Python member Eric Idle, with composer John Du Prez, changed and expanded on the original concept, while retaining some classic bits and characterizations.
The result – more than simply an adaptation of a spoof on the Grail-quest of King Arthur and his knights, or a swipe at the classic Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot – has also become a satire on Broadway glitz and producers’ obsession with turning well-loved films into gargantuan “theatrical experiences.”
Now, White Rock Players Club’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot – complete with “Knights Who Say Ni,” killer rabbits and abusive French soldiers – comes to the stage of the White Rock Playhouse (1532 Johnston Rd.) from Sept. 8 to Oct. 3.
The club’s long-awaited return to live theatre shows (while following COVID-19 directives) is also probably one of the most ambitious projects it has attempted in recent memory, co-director Dann Wilhelm acknowledged in a recent conversation with Peace Arch News.
A cast of almost 20, doubling many parts – and a small army of backstage costumers, builders painters, prop-gatherers and other crew members – have been pressed into service for the show, which was originally to have been presented last year before pandemic rules forced it to be placed on hold.
“We always talk about how much work goes into the annual pantomime – but that’s nothing in comparison to this,” Wilhelm commented.
Fortunately, directorial oversight for the show has been split between Wilhelm and Lisa Pavilionis, both of whom have directed some of the more interesting WRPC pantomimes in recent years, with Lauren Gloanec reprising the assistant director duties she had for Wilhelm’s Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom.
“It’s been surprisingly easy collaborating with Lisa – we have a similar sense of staging scenes and share a similar sense of humour,” he said, noting that Gloanec contributes “a good eye” to how scenes are working overall, particularly when he’s on stage playing the role of the reluctant Dennis Galahad, later Sir Galahad.
“The three of us working in tandem has been great,” he said.
Wilhelm noted that club veteran (and major Python fan) Tim Driscoll has designed wheeled set units that will help with some of the quick changes of scene necessary for the show.
“You can spin them around, move them and reconfigure them to create different settings,” Wilhelm said.
Music direction is in the highly capable hands of Kerry O’Donovan (once upon a time – with Wilhelm – a member of the music theatre revue quartet The Group On Stage), while choreography is being supervised by Stefani Delisimunovic.
But key to a show like this, Wilhelm agreed, is a cast that understands the Python style of humour and is prepared to hurl themselves fearlessly into a state of inspired idiocy.
Happily, the show appears to have attracted a stellar group of kindred spirits, Python fans – and scene-stealers – many of whom have the benefit of knowing each other and working together for years, Wilhelm said.
“We’ve got some great comedic talent and great musical theatre talent; a few new faces and a few faces we haven’t seen around in a while.”
Principal among the latter are James T. Walker (a veteran of WRPC and FVGSS shows, last seen locally in Beachhouse Theatre’s Rumours) as King Arthur, and Vanessa Klein (who appeared most recently in WRPC’s Drinking Alone and Noises Off and has lately been part of the Ed Sullivan Caravan of Stars touring company) as the Lady of the Lake.
Other familiar faces are Jake Hildebrand (WRPC’s Aladdin, FVGSS’ Seussical) as the singing and dancing Sir Robin, Jerret Swartz (FVGSS’ Iolanthe) as Sir Bedevere, theoretically the brightest of the knights, and Christopher Hall (Aladdin and Seussical) as the imprisoned Prince Herbert.
Also well-known to White Rock audiences will be Adrian Shaffer (Aladdin, Laughter on the 23rd Floor) as Sir Not-Appearing-In-This Show, Sir Frog and Sir Kitty Cat and Charles Buettner (Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Ninotchka) as The Historian.
Kaden Chad (the narrator in this year’s WRPC virtual show Once Upon A Pantomime) returns as the good-looking, but incredibly violent Sir Lancelot, Tony Loyer (Opening Night Theatre’s Sylvia, Langley Players’ Drop Dead) plays Arthur’s coconut shell-toting manservant Patsy, while newcomer Paul Bean plays Sir Bors.
Also helping the show immeasurably, Wilhelm said, is a strong chorus ensemble including Delisimunovic, Kailea De Leon, Kately Nikiforuk, dance captain MacKenzie Claus, Lyn Verra-Lay, Ann Matterson, Erin Mulcahy and Stephen Elchesen (who will also understudy King Arthur for a few performances).
“We couldn’t have asked for a better group of people for putting this show on,” Wilhelm said.
Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for students and seniors. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.; proof of vaccination will be required, and masks will be mandatory among audience members.
For more information, or to reserve tickets, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 604-535-7535 or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca/shows