Find Your Grail

The search for the Holy Grail takes a turn for the absurd and ludicrous when God charges King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to find the cup of Christ in the raucous musical, Spamalot, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This story, based off of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is actually a natural fit for a musical thanks to the unique, nonsense humor of Monty Python.  Since anything could, and often did, happen in Monty Python sketches, the thought of songs suddenly breaking out of nowhere seems like another day on the job for the Python crew.  The script is sharp and witty and a fairly good translation of the film due to the fact that it was written by Python alum, Eric Idle, who also composed the music with John Du Prez.

Even if you have seen the film, the musical promises lots of surprises with new scenes and characters not present in the original movie.  The flip side of this is that some of the classic moments of the film do not make it into the musical which may disappoint purists.  The new material is very good for the most part, but some of it is actually based off of old Python sketches causing those particular jokes to feel a bit forced since they were gags meant for something other than this play’s source material.

The directing of Mark Robinson and Jeff Horger is excellent.  This is a very high energy show and the pace never drags, slows, or pauses.  It is also very well staged and the two directors have shaped some strong, sharp performances from their group of actors.

Nick Albrecht blasts a home run in his Playhouse debut in the role of King Arthur.  Albrecht’s presence fills the theatre and his powerful baritone imbues Arthur with just the right blend of majesty, authority, and, dare I say, humility.  It is easy to see why people would want to follow this Arthur as Albrecht seems like a natural leader.  He also has a wry, subtle sense of humor best exemplified in numbers such as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and “Knights of the Round Table” with the latter being a particular highlight due to his “dancing”.  At the same time, Albrecht was also capable of fine dramatic moments with “Find Your Grail” and “I’m All Alone”.

Melanie Walters nearly swipes this show from the rest of the cast with her turn as the Lady of the Lake (as well as doing double duty as the show’s choreographer).  Beginning as an otherworldly fairy who granted the sword, Excalibur, to Arthur, Ms Walter slowly morphs into a diva as her acting gets a little bigger each and every time she appears on stage, culminating in her big moment “Whatever Happened to My Part?” which is actually a massive gripe about her lack of stage time.  And, heavens, can she sing!  Aside from her featured number, Ms Walters’ nearly superhuman alto also belted out several variations of “The Song That Goes Like This” (once in a dead on mimicry of Bette Midler) that was a treat for the ears.  Her performance alone is worth the price of admission and was one of the funniest performances of the season.

I would like to know where Matthias Jeske has been hiding because his is a phenomenal talent.  Jeske is a marvelously versatile performer as he leaps between multiple characters in his Playhouse debut.  So skillful and nuanced were Jeske’s changes in voice and body language that I found myself looking at my program several times and was stunned to discover that I was watching the same actor that I had only seen moments before.  Whether he was the erudite, if slightly pompous, Historian, the imposing Knight who said Ni, or the land hungry, music despising king of Swamp Castle, Jeske could do no wrong in a stunning, tour de force performance.  Jeske was equally impressive on the singing and dancing side of things with gut busting turns as Not Dead Fred in “I’m Not Dead Yet” and Sir Robin’s chief minstrel in “Brave Sir Robin”.

Other standouts in the cast were Zach Kloppenborg as the brutally violent, Sir Lancelot, who has his own secret (“His Name is Lancelot”) and the mercilessly funny French Taunter.  Brian Preisman’s coconut clapping and laconic Patsy.  Adam Hogston, whose cowardly Sir Robin joins the Knights because he wants to sing and dance and gets his chance in “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”.  Don Harris as the intelligent Sir Bedevere (channeling a little Bill Murray) and the widowed, lonely mother of Dennis/Sir Galahad.  Ryan Pivonka as the acerbic Dennis who is transformed into the dashing Sir Galahad.  Marcus Benzel who dominates the stage in an awesome cameo performance as the effeminate Prince Herbert.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra strike gold again with a precisely performed and spritely score.  Steven Williams’ lighting and special effects add the right bit of atmosphere.  Steve Wheeldon’s scenery dazzles as we roam from old castles to “very expensive forests”.

A few minor flaws were present in the night’s performance.  There were sound issues on a few occasions and some of the dancers were slightly off at a couple of points.  The duel between King Arthur and the Black Knight also needed some tidying.  But these small quibbles are instantly forgotten in this hilarious and energetic romp.

Deep this show is not.  It’s all about fun and entertaining the audience.  Yet there is one deep thought prevalent in the show and that’s when Arthur refers to the quest for the Grail as a search for the Grail within ourselves or finding the one thing which makes us happy which all of the characters in this show are able to do.  I found that quite profound and a valuable life lesson.  So come see Spamalot for the moral lesson, but stay for the comedy.  Just watch out for that rabbit. . .

Spamalot plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 28.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Wed-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $40 for adults and $25 for students.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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Legendary Comedy Turned Musical is Playhouse’s Season Finale

Spamalot

Lyrics by Eric Idle; Book by Eric Idle
Music by Eric Idle & John Du Prez

Show Dates:  May 29-June 28 (Wed-Sat at 7:30pm & Sundays at 2pm)

Tony-award winner for Best Musical, Spamalot is the uproarious comedy “lovingly ripped off from” Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Off-the-wall humor fills King Arthur and his companions’ quest for the Holy Grail. Their journey is side-splittingly interrupted by the Knights who say Ni, Harold the Shrubber, The Black Knight and countless other iconic characters. Whether you are a die-hard Monty Python fan or as you read this, you wonder, “What is a ‘Monty Python?’” you will no doubt love the hilarity of Spamalot.

Tickets go on sale May 12.  Tickets prices are $40 for adults and $25 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.

sponsor: TD Ameritrade
orchestra sponsor: Paul & Oscar Giger Foundation
media sponsor: WOWT

Directed by Mark Robinson

Cast

Nick Albrecht – King Arthur
Kyle Avery – Ensemble
Marcus Benzel – Prince Herbert
Katy Boone – Ensemble
Josh Davis – Ensemble
Jason DeLong – Ensemble
Brooke Fencl – Ensemble
Colin Frye – Ensemble
Don Harris – Sir Bedevere, Dennis’ Mother, Concord
Adam Haverman – Ensemble
Adam Hogston – Sir Robin
Megan Ingram – Ensemble
Matthias Jeske – Historian, Fred, Herbert’s Father, Ni, Frenchie, Minstrel
Melissa King – Ensemble
Zach Kloppenborg – Sir Lancelot, Mayor, French Taunter, Tim the Enchanter
Aaron Lawrence – Ensemble
Connor Meuret – Ensemble
Ryan Pivonka – Sir Galahad/Dennis, Black Knight
Brian Priesman – Patsy
Samantha Quintana – Ensemble
Sydney Readman – Ensemble
Emily Tencer – Ensemble
Lindsey Ussery – Ensemble
Melanie Walters – The Lady of the Lake

A Season of Change, Part II: Lessons Learned

If I were to retire from theatre today, I could look back on my career with a certain degree of satisfaction.  Not only do I have nearly 30 shows to my credit, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best directors in the city, have worked in every major theatre in the city, have been a part of shows that have been listed as Omaha’s finest, enjoyed some great roles, and have even garnered some critical praise from the public and my theatre brethren.

And no, for those who may be wondering, I’m not planning on hanging things up just yet.  I’m still very much a work in progress and I still marvel at just how much my thinking has changed over the past few years.  For the longest time, I felt like I had something to prove each and every time I auditioned.  And then I finally proved it to myself, which is what I was really trying to do the whole time.  Now I just have something to show and let the chips fall where they may after that.  A big part of showing that something is to not be afraid to dive off the cliff.  That’s the lesson I recently learned.

In part I, I mentioned that I was prepping for an audition for one of my big 3 shows.  Then something came along the way that interrupted that preparation.  I read the script for Bad Jews which will be performed at the Blue Barn this spring and I found it to be one of the strongest scripts that I had read in quite a while.  I really wanted to read for this show, even though I was a good decade older than the oldest character in the show.  That hurdle was actually the least of my problems as I was also going to be out of town for both days of the audition.  What to do?  What to do?

I ended up talking the matter over with Randall Stevens, the Blue Barn’s new associate artistic director, and he allowed me the opportunity to come in and read early.  I saw this as a very positive sign so I prepared diligently.  I was also lucky enough to be able to work with Kaitlyn McClincy and Noah Diaz at my read which gave me some strong performers to play with.

My reads were OK.  I know they could have been better.  One telling direction that Randall gave to Kaitlyn and myself was to be flinging knives at each other as we argued.  Ten minutes after I left the audition, I knew what I should have done.  That’s why I know the reads could have been better.  If you audition right, you leave the audition with the feeling that you could have done no better.  Whether you get cast or not is irrelevant, it’s simply the knowledge that you left everything on stage.  And I did not do that.

Recently, Susan Clement posted a wonderful quotation from John Cleese that said, “Nothing will stop you from being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”  That’s exactly what happened to me.  Not only did this happen at this audition, but it also happened in my previous audition, detailed in Part I.  I went out to try to prove something instead of trying to show something.  Because of that, I held back because I didn’t want to muck up my chances.  I compare it to running towards the end of a cliff and, instead of diving off to see if I’d soar or crash, I put the brakes on at the very edge of the cliff and said, “Lovely view”.

As I thought of that metaphor, I began to reflect on my past work and auditions.  I realized that my absolute best work came when I went out and just did it.  When I went out and tried to prove a point, that’s when I’d usually trip and fall.  Mind you, going out and just doing it didn’t mean I always got cast or even the role I wanted.  But it did mean I always left the theatre feeling satisfied and that’s the feeling I plan to have from here on out.

I’ve also got to be honest and admit that I might not have been cast in Bad Jews even if my audition had been of a Tony Award winning caliber.  I had my photo taken not too long after the audition and, son of a gun, my hair is really silver.  If I’d been directing and saw me audition, I would have thought I looked too old for the part from the start.  So I’ve also got to keep those little realities in my mind when selecting roles from here on out.

So now I’m back on track to audition for one of my big 3.  I’ve learned the lesson to always dive off the cliff and I’ve also learned to be aware of my look.  The latter will play a big role in that audition as I may have to admit that the role I really want may now be past my age range.  I’ll still keep the hope that there’s a chance I can land it, but I’m also preparing for an equally good character that may now be within my age range.

Until the next time. . .