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'Spamalot' up next at Camelot Theatre

When Eric Idle of British comedy troupe Monty Python decided to team up with composer John Du Prez and write a musical comedy based on the 1975 movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," his cohort had mixed reactions.

The story goes that some of the members — Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin — felt the stage musical was not "Python" as they would write it, and John Cleese had to be persuaded to provide the recorded voice of God in the original show.

As the show turned into a huge financial and critical success, they were delighted and and thought the show was "terrific good fun." In 2005, "Spamalot" became a fresh Broadway hit and was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning three, including Best New Musical.

While this irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend makes several references to "The Holy Grail" and other material from the Monty Python canon, "Spamalot" is a show that has taken on a life of its own. 

With its blend of silly humor and a new score penned by Idle and Du Prez, it tells the not-so-legendary tale of King Arthur and his knights in their earnest quest for the Holy Grail. Look for King Arthur and his trustworthy servant Patsy, along with a homicidal Sir Lancelot, a strangely flatulent Sir Bedever, along with a chorus line of dancing divas and knights, man-eating rabbits, rude Frenchmen, catapulting cows and the odd knights who say "Ni!"

"Spamalot" previews Thursday, June 22, opens Friday, June 23, and runs through July 23 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 for the June 22 preview, $29 or $36 for all other performances, and can be purchased at camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and one hour before performances.

A benefit performance for Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice will be presented at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 28. Tickets can be purchased by emailing info@sofriendsofhospice.org or by calling 541-488-7805.

Don Matthew plays Arthur, Isaac Begstrom plays Patsy and Cody Petit, Zaq Wenworth and Dylan Spooner play Lancelot, Robin and Bedever, respectively. Noah Fitters plays the knight who says "Ni!" Kristen Calvin plays the Lady of the Lake, Rigo Jimenez plays Galahad and Geoff Riley plays Frenchie. Most of the actors also play ensemble parts.

At the top of the show, Arthur stops at a castle to inquire within, but the guards ask how Arthur found the coconut halves Patsy uses to simulate the clip-clopping sound of horse hooves. As the discussion turns into an argument between the guards as to whether African or European swallows could carry a coconut shell, Arthur and Patsy ride off.

Reneé Hewitt directs and choreographs this blend of insane, clever and silly humor.

"It was inevitable that 'Spamalot' would be produced at Camelot Theatre," Hewitt says in her program notes. "I didn't have to think about it for too long before saying yes when I was asked to direct this show. I saw a production of 'Spamalot' on a national tour several years ago, and what I remember are the hilarious lyrics, almost every musical number spoofing Broadway, and laughing my sides sore.

"I had no idea what I was in for as a director," she says. "When Idle and Du Prez wrote 'Spamalot,' they lampooned big Broadway shows, such as "Phantom of the Opera" and "West Side Story." They created massive, over-the-top numbers that are on par with 'Hello, Dolly!' and '42nd Street.' That means big production numbers, lots of choreography and presentation, lots of props, from a giant rabbit to torches, maracas, flails, a 'very expensive forest' and, of course, a castle. Idle and Du Prez threw everything into the pot and stirred it up, which is why this show is my greatest challenge to date.

" 'Knights of the Round Table' is a huge production number," Hewitt says. " 'In am Not Dead Yet,' is a hilarious number featuring Joey Larimer as Not Dead Fred, and look for 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.'

"Consequently, I’ve leaned heavily on the people that surround me: the designers, stage managers, assistant choreographer, music director and the cast. Some of the gems in this show came from them. They've worked hard, and it is that and dedication that has made the journey worthwhile."

Michael Wing is musical director, Janny Hernandez is set designer, costumes are by Kayla Bush, lighting by Bart Grady, sound and video by Brian O'Connor, and stage manager is Tashina Stillmaker.

"Spamalot" pokes fun at almost everyone and everything. It is most appropriate for ages 12 and older. Pythonesque humor can appear cheeky, impertinent, irreverent, disrespectful and sometimes just plain rude. All the while. it is silliness raised to an art form and all in good fun.

Joey Larimer, left, Don Matthews and Kristen Calvin appear in Camelot Theatre's production of 'Spamalot,' running through July 23. [Photo by Steve Sutfin]