If you heard loud, cackling laughter in Concord last Wednesday night, it was probably the Community Players of Concord rehearsing for their latest show, Monty Python’s Spamalot.
It’s so funny, so ridiculous, that Director Doug Schwarz wasted no time when the rights for the show became available for community theater productions.
“We got the rights within days of when they were available,” Schwarz said during rehearsal at the Players’ Studio. “When I saw the show live, I not only liked it, but it struck me immediately that it was a show within our grasp. I knew it would be a challenge, but we’ve done challenging productions before, like Titanic, The Full Monty.”
He also knew this show would attract a whole slew of audience members who normally wouldn’t see productions by the Community Players of Concord.
So far, it seems he was right: Eighty-seven people came to try out last August, which is the largest turnout for any audition in the history of the Players. Already, seats are filling up for the Players’ Nov. 22 premiere.
“This is the best cast I’ve ever seen here,” Schwarz said. “We were able to pick from the cream of the crop. … All of the dancers [the ‘Laker Girls’] you see tried out for the Lady of the Lake, the female lead. Any one of them would have been great. But they were all willing to stay in the chorus,” Schwarz said. “That isn’t always the case in community theater.”
Granted, the Players are banking on filling seats come Nov. 22. They’re holding nothing back in constructing this over-the-top, elaborate performance, with a cast of 30, an assortment of costume changes and a collection of towering sets, including a castle, a couple of trees, a really long set of legs and a giant wooden rabbit. They’ve been building these sets since May.
“I’ve never seen so much energy from a cast,” said Betty Thomson, who’s 87 and has been involved with the Community Players of Concord for years. “They give a performance every time, every rehearsal. That’s the secret. And they have a ball.”
Sarah Souter, who plays Lady of the Lake, thinks audiences will be impressed at the commitment of Spamalot actors.
“They believe in what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s fun, and it’s different.” Plus, she said, you don’t need to know anything about Monty Python and the Holy Grail in order to appreciate Monty Python’s Spamalot. Or, it seems, to act in it — she admitted she had yet to see the film.
The show, which won three Tony awards in 2005, including Best Musical, is a “campy, irreverent” parody of the story about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It follows them on their quest to find the Holy Grail, which, at first, they think is a metaphor. (This leads the actors into an epic number called “Find Your Grail” with a chorus, kicklines and tap dancing.)
The silliness is embedded within the musical’s song lyrics (so pay attention!) and in the fact that the characters know they’re in a play. Lady of the Lake, for instance, breaks out “What Ever Happened to My Part?” halfway through Act II in anger at her lack of stage time.
Laughter at rehearsals, then, is inevitable. Every role is a comedic one, said Matt McGonagle, who plays King Arthur. (One player who, understandably, wished to remain anonymous said she’d laughed so hard at rehearsals once that she peed her pants.) Within the first five minutes, there’s laughter during the “Laker Girls Cheer” (“Who’s the king?” “You are!” “Who’s the king?” “You Are! A.R.T.H.U.R. Arthur!”), and shortly afterward, when God orders King Arthur on his quest.
The difficulty, McGonagle said, is containing this laughter come showtime. He compared laughing onstage to when the cast on Saturday Night Live cracks up while filming. You just need to stop talking for a minute, he said.
“Usually, when you do, the audience will laugh because they know you’re trying not to laugh,” he said.