MONTY PYTHON "SPAMALOT" Playhouse opens on silly note with local premiere of Broadway hit
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Lester Malizia gets to chuckling just talking about Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”
He’s a long-time fan of Monty Python, the zany British comedy troupe that created the hit Broadway comedy-musical.
And Malizia is beside himself to be directing the Mahoning Valley premiere of the offbeat production, which opens Friday at the Youngstown Playhouse as the season-opener.
“I’ve been a fan of Monty Python going at least back to the ’70s,” he said. “I used to watch [BBC television series] ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ all the time. It is classic comedy.”
“Spamalot” won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. The musical is based on the 1975 comedy masterpiece film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
The musical spoofs the King Arthur legend as it follows the Knights of the Round Table on a mission. The knights must overcome some unusual perils on the way, including a vicious rabbit, some highly insulting Frenchmen and the dreaded Knights Who Say Ni.
Malizia first saw “Spamalot” on Broadway in an audience that included a lot of extreme Python fans. “The second even a hint of a joke started, people got hysterical,” he recalled, “because they knew where it was going.”
The distinctive Python humor of the movie, he pointed out, was kept intact as the story moved to the stage.
“Some of the lines are direct quotes from the movie,” said Malizia, who noted that the first act is very close to the film, while the second act has more original content.
The stunts used in the movie’s most memorable scenes are also recreated on stage.
“It’s totally outrageous,” said Malizia. “We do catapault a cow, and there’s also the Black Knight getting his arms and legs chopped off.”
Although it’s set in 5th-century England, “Spamalot” switches time period at will to suit its fancy. “Like in all Python works, it is a mash-up of periods,” said Malizia. “There will be an Arthurian scene, and then they go to a disco. And Camelot is sort of like Las Vegas.”
Creating this surreal world are Playhouse staples Jim Lybarger and Johnny Pecano, who created the scenery as well as video sequences. The video is used to set the historical tone of each scene, said Malizia, who didn’t want to give away any more than that.
Liz Nalepa created the costumes, and Leslie Brown is in charge of lighting design.
The cast, which Malizia calls “spectacular,” includes David El’Hatton as King Arthur, Mark McConnell, Anthony Ventura, Donnie Wolford, David Lynch, Travis Ascione, Allan McCreary and Whitney Jenkins as the Lady of the Lake.
“It’s a mostly male cast, but the Lady of the Lake does have her Laker Girls,” said Malizia.
Malizia, who is a theater instructor at Westminster College, last appeared at the Playhouse in February as director of “Avenue Q.” Like “Spamalot,” the Sesame Street-style spoof was also a Broadway smash musical making its Mahoning Valley premiere.
Malizia said he loves being in the role of being the first to bring highly anticipated fare to local audiences.
The rights to “Spamalot” were only recently made available to community theaters, he noted, adding that he expects many more to present the show in coming seasons.