A Preview of Spamalot

Arthur and Black KnightBy Toni Wilson Wood

May 23, 2017
6:30 p.m.-ish

The Hope Martin Stage at the Waterloo Community Playhouse bustles with the fine-tuned chaotic energy of the last run-through of Spamalot, the final show of the 100th season of Waterloo Community Playhouse is about to begin. This is the last rehearsal before ‘dry tech’, which, for those who haven’t worked behind the scenes in theater, is when all the designers and crews work without the actors there to put together all the lights, sound, set design and other designs aspects into their final places for the start of ‘tech week’–the run up to the opening night. The set and actors do not look the way they will once tech week is under way: there’s stage dressings half done and in various places, there’s rehearsal props in place and many of the actors are working half dressed as their characters. Warm-ups happen and almost immediately after, there is a search on for a fish. After some rushing around, actor Hunter Quint runs out and shouts, ‘I found fish on stage right!’ as he triumphantly hoists the stuffed fish in the air.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the final polished show the audiences will see this coming weekend and next comes together. A lot of chaos, a lot of work, sleepless nights, sweat and blood (literally as one actor’s face was cut during rehearsal), stress, coffee, energy drinks and fast food and a bunch of people who really love theatre all converge on and off the stage to create this work.

One of them is seated at a long table in the front of the theatre. Her name is Linda Stamp and she is the stage manager. She, like all stage managers, is amazing to watch. Stamp simultaneously has so many balls in the air–she has to keep an eye on the time and call out the time as it ticks always a little too quickly to the start of the run through, she has to answer questions from everyone from the director to the technical director and other crew members, and keep the show running on time and with a good pace–and she does it with a smile. When you come to the show, you most likely won’t see Stamp, but without her, you would definitely notice a difference. She is very much the ring-master of this circus of mirth, just as all good stage managers are, and simultaneously is a great team player with everyone from the actors to the crew members working together to make this machine known as theatre run smoothly. As the run begins, she follows the script carefully along with the actors, prompting them when the actors forget a line and jotting down when the actors do miss a line or call for a line. I was impressed–there were actually quite few line drops and calls, far less than other shows I worked on in the past that were at this stage of the rehearsal process.

Stamp, as well as director Greg Holt described to me what would be seen on the projection screen at the back of the stage. Spamalot is the first show at WCP to use the brand new projection system, which according to WCP Executive Director Norman Ussery, will enrich the stage picture. “It is not right for every show, but for something like Spamalot it is totally called for to integrate some of the cinematic humor that is Monty Python,” said Ussery.

This new projection system was bought through a fundraising campaign, with half the money coming from three donors and the other half coming from dozens more. From the photographs I have seen, which Ussery described as not looking as good as they do live, the addition of this particular projector will certainly make many of the shows using it look even more polished and professional.

Spamalot marks a last in Waterloo Community Playhouse history as this is the last show that lighting designer extraordinaire, William Barbour, will design for, as he is retiring. I have worked with Barbour since we were both at the University of Iowa from 2002-2005, and I’ve enjoyed seeing his artistic visions literally lighting up the stages on many shows in the Cedar Valley. The depth and beauty he added to stage will be sorely missed.

So, what about this show? Spamalot is the Tony Award winning musical based on the classic film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which in typical irreverent and absurd style, tells the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. It features many of the best bits of Monty Python, including killer rabbits, the Knights who say Ni and the taunting Frenchmen. From this rehearsal, audience members are in for a treat. The choreography, designed by Donna Bumgartner, is on point and Holt has assembled quite the company of actors. Not only is their comic timing impeccable, but they have nailed the dry British wit solidly, and musically they are off the hook. Standouts include Gary Bumgartner as the hammiest straight man King Arthur (if there is ever a straight man in Monty Python-anything); Ann Frenna lending her lovely voice and diva ‘tude to the Lady of the Lake, Jordan Makinster and Brian Langr, who, without fail in the many roles they play in this musical, show off their acting versatility and dancing chops, particularly in Makinster’s case; Neal Petersen as Patsy, King Arthur’s long suffering servant and horse; Joshua Pannhoff as the cowardly Sir Robin, as well as his minstrels played by Jessica Leib and Quint, who also plays multiple roles as well, each one funnier than the last.

Spamalot, without a doubt, will end the first 100 years of Waterloo Community Playhouse history with a bang. While this musical may not be for everyone (and certainly not for children), if Monty Python is your thing, in Spamalot, you will find your grail. And to be honest, I am not a huge fan of Monty Python, but this will be the second time I have seen the show, and it is a fun ride. Just remember to bring your coconuts if you are doing this ride by horseback.

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