“We’re Knights of the Round Table. We dance whene’er we’re able. We do routines and chorus scenes With footwork impeccable. We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail
In 1975, a handful of British men who had comprised the popular sketch comedy group Monty Python created one of the most timeless, culturally transcendent, and utterly ridiculous movies of all time with Monty Python & The Holy Grail – so much so that in 2004 the film was named the best British picture of all time by fans on both IMDB and the UK arm of Amazon.com.
The men responsible for Monty Python included John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam. Fortunately for audiences everywhere, the Python’s legacy didn’t stop with the slew of sketch comedy shows and movies that spanned the 1970s and early ‘80s.
In 2002, Eric Idle and veteran Python composer John Du Prez began writing a script for a play based on The Holy Grail. The play, called Spamalot (no doubt ripped from the name Camelot – the legendary castle referenced by The Great King Arthur in The Holy Grail) opened to national audiences in 2006. Like The Holy Grail, Spamalot tells the fictionalized, slapstick tale of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail.
A huge success, Spamalot has won countless Tony awards for everything from “Best Musical” to “Best Director of a Musical.”
Fortunately for audiences across the nation, Spamalot is still touring and giving rise to great comedic talent in the form of actors like northern Virginia natives Arthur Rowan and Michael Berry, who play King Arthur and his sidekick Patsy respectively, in the newest rendition coming to The Warner Theatre for a one-week engagement in March.
“You know, it’s funny, for my whole life whenever I introduced myself as Arthur there was always a one in 10 chance someone would say ‘Oh, Arthur King of the Britains,’” Rowan said of his coincidental name. “It used to annoy me but, it was actually prophetic [laughs].”
For Rowan, playing the character of King Arthur marks his U.S. touring debut. He came to Spamalot after four years working with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. Before that, he worked with several theaters in the DC area, including the Folger Theatre and the Washington Shakespeare Company, and with smaller local theatre troupes like The Rude Mechanicals.
“I love the theatre scene in DC. I went to high school in Vienna and my parents moved to Reston so that was my base of operations for a few years,” Rowan said. “My friends who want to hit the theatre circuit always think of going to New York City but I say, ‘No, go to DC because the resume building opportunity is just tremendous!’”
Performing in Spamalot is not only a great opportunity for a rising actor to get national exposure, but a chance to cut loose and have fun. The play, like the movie it is based on, involves a constant chorus line of dancing divas and knights, flatulent Frenchmen, killer rabbits, and one legless knight.
“It’s very difficult to keep a straight face,” said Berry, who plays the mostly mute Patsy. “There are a lot of things the cast can make up every night, so you never know what’s going to come out of their mouths. It’s written into the show where the other characters can improvise.”
This improvisation lends a unique quality to every performance and a level of camaraderie between the cast members that’s hard to miss even as an audience member.
“This is my first big job so it’s really exciting,” Berry said. “I’m one of the new ones [to Spamalot] but the cast has been incredibly nice and supportive, which I think sometimes can be rare, so I feel really blessed and lucky.”
Of course, running a national play like Spamalot takes more than witty actors and improvised lines. Anyone who’s seen The Holy Grail knows that a play that aspires to be as ridiculous as the movie would require some dedication to the craft of say, catapulting cows.
Spamalot does not disappoint. Among its props is a cow that weighs 45 pounds and requires two stagehands to throw over a castle, 40 coconuts a month, 75 wigs, 30 pairs of men’s fishnets and 56 codpieces – all of which set the perfect stage for any actor looking to ham it up.
“I always wanted to go into theatre,” Berry confirmed. “I love having the audience there. My first show was The King and I, and I played the little kid who got to look up her [the actress playing the lead role of Anna’s] skirt and the audience laughed and I thought, ‘that’s the coolest feeling’.”
Spamalot runs March 13 – 18 at Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. DC. Purchase tickets at www.ticketmaster.com.