At least for a little while, Loretto will be a very silly place.
Cresson Lake Playhouse will present "Monty Python's Spamalot" Oct. 16 through 19 and Oct. 24 through 26 at the theater and fans of Python's iconic 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" should take notice.
While "Spamalot" - written by Monty Python's Eric Idle - is a musical and doesn't follow the "Holy Grail" plot exactly, it's all in tribute to the cult classic. When "Spamalot" hit the Broadway stage in 2005, it held the tag line, "A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail.'"
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
In Cresson Lake Playhouse’s production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” Doug Meagher (left) plays King Arthur and Josh Rinaman plays Patsy.
"I really hope that [the audience] thinks it's a translation of the movie, because that's really what it is," said Bryce Britton, the director of the CLP production. "There's some amazing songs, but they're from the movie, or they're written to go with a scene in the movie. ... What I hope is that the movie drives people in."
What Python fans will find is pretty true to the film, Britton, an Altoona resident, said.
"The first night, we watched the movie and I said, 'This is what you're supposed to sound like,'" he explained. "The true change is that my knights, they've created their own characters, but everyone else is straight from the movie."
If you go
What: "Monty Python's Spamalot"
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17-19 and Oct. 24-26
Where: Cresson Lake Playhouse, Loretto
Tickets: $17 for adults and $10 for students under age $10; Tickets available by calling 472-4333 or online at www.cressonlake.com
Both "Holy Grail" and "Spamalot" ostensibly tell the story of King Arthur and his loyal knights searching for the mythical Grail. It's just that they tell the story in the most ridiculous way possible, encountering an unkillable Black Knight, killer rabbits, the powerful Knights Who Say Ni, taunting Frenchmen and a powerful sorcerer named ... Tim.
"Spamalot" was a massive hit on Broadway, winning three Tony Awards - best musical, best direction of a musical for Mike Nichols and best performance by a featured actress in a musical for Sara Ramirez, who played the mythical Lady of the Lake, who helps guide Arthur's quest with a booming voice. The show closed after nearly four years and more than 1,500 performances.
The show's long-running national tours made it even more popular. So popular, in fact, that it's still a surprise to see it done on a community theater level. At least, it was a surprise to Doug Meagher, Cresson Lake's King Arthur.
"I went to see their summer show, 'Aida,' and I saw that they were doing 'Spamalot' in the program and I thought, 'Oh they must've cast that by now,' Meagher, 50, of Johnstown, said. "When I saw they were doing auditions, I said, 'I have to do that one."
"I just loved the movie and I'm a big Monty Python fan and it's the first time I've ever seen this show done at the regional level."
"Spamalot" is Meagher's first show with CLP since 2001. He mostly performs in Johnstown, particularly with the Band of Brothers Shakespeare Company.
Meagher says the songs in the show are all of the highest quality, despite their silly nature.
"I think that they're all very well done," he said. "They do a little tongue-in-cheek poke at Broadway shows throughout ... but they've managed to take the strangest subject matter and make songs out of them that could be hit songs.
"I don't think there's a weak song in the show."
Bringing "Spamalot" to the Cresson Lake stage was an exercise in patience, said Elaine Mastalski, the theater's executive director.
"They send out these teasers that will say 'available to amateur theater' and you send in that you're interested," she said. "Then you wait and then they notify you. It took two years."
Once CLP got the rights to do the play, the real work began.
"It is a huge undertaking for a community theater," Mastalski said. "It requires so many men in the cast, and that can sometimes be a challenge to find men who can sing and dance and act, too."
"We had to build almost all the costumes because no one has really done this show. ... Which was huge. And then turning the Playhouse into a castle is a challenge, too."
Once plus of the show is that it brings in a sometimes hard to reach demographic: Men.
"I think a lot of men are anticipating this," Mastalski said. "They like the Monty Python humor and they quote it on an everyday basis."
Unfortunately, that masculine draw has come with a bit of a price.
"[The cast] walked in with such a huge amount of experience and comedy talent," Britton said. "The challenge in the casting really was finding women."
The Lady of the Lake is a substantial part and she has several show-stopping songs, but that leads many female actors to the conclusion that hers is the only role in the musical. But unlike most Monty Python bits, where most female roles were played by men in drag, "Spamalot" has a number of female parts.
But the lack of a big role has led to many women simply leaving the show. Britton has pulled in several different women from the production crew to fill in some of the lost roles.
"I think I've lost, at this point, 15 or 16 women who just came in and said 'Oh, it's just The Lady of the Lake?' and they left," he said. "I've ended up casting men for some of the female parts."
But the show must go on. Besides, what's more Monty Python than men dressed as women?
With such a ridiculous show, the question comes naturally: How do you face down killer rabbits, shrubbery-loving forest knights, women slapping men in the face with fish and all the rest with a straight face?
The answer: You don't.
"I envy actors who I see and I don't know how they manage to keep a straight face," Meagher said. "If you come to see something - the audience thinks there's a great deal of spontaneity to a show, and to a point that's true -- but the actors have heard all these lines 30 times before.
"That being said, I have lost it on stage before."
Britton is happy with just living with the giggles.
"We still haven't had a straight run, where people haven't been cracking up," he said. "I think it's just going to be a part of the show."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.