From the moment Patsy and King Arthur walk onstage at the beginning of City Springs Theatre’s production of “Spamalot,” you know you’re in for a good time. And so do the actors.
“That is the greatest feeling in the world,” said Googie Uterhardt, the actor who plays King Arthur. “That first moment, riding out there opening night – even preview didn’t give us any feeling of what that was going to be.”
Uterhardt enters alongside Roberto Méndez, who plays Patsy, the king’s servant. In contrast to Uterhardt – who has been in Atlanta for roughly 30 years and performing in shows with the City Springs Theatre Company since it formed in 2017 – Méndez has been performing in the city for less than a year. As veteran and newcomer “rode” out on stage together opening night, Méndez banging those famous coconuts together to simulate the sound of horses hooves, the reaction from the audience was immediate.
“We got a very audible response,” said Méndez, who recently graduated from Columbus State University. “That was really special, and made me remember that this is a show that people know and love.”
With music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, along with a book and lyrics by Idle, “Spamalot” originally hit the Broadway stage in 2005. The musical is based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and delivers a similarly irreverent spoof of the Arthurian legend. Taking on the legacy of the Monty Python comedy group (composed of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Idle himself) is no easy feat. But the cast of City Springs’s production brings the professionalism, talent, and comedic chops of a Broadway level production.
When I saw the production on opening night, it seemed the audience couldn’t find a moment to breathe, laughing at both jokes they know and love and the fresh life the City Springs Theatre Company injected into the material. According to cast members, that energy has only continued to build. Nick Walker Jones, who plays Sir Lancelot, said that heading into the show’s final slate of performances, audiences can expect that same energy but with a little more room for spontaneity.
“The first show or two, you’re really just trying to get your footing,” Jones said. “But now that it starts to feel a little more in our bodies, we can start to really build on what we know.”
For Jones, who has been in Atlanta for almost a year and previously performed in “West Side Story” at City Springs, the “Spamalot” production has been a return to form of sorts. He previously played Sir Lancelot his senior year of college, and said in returning to the role, he feels like he appreciates Monty Python more now than he did back then.
“I felt like returning to [the role], I would be able to pay a little more homage to it,” Jones said. “To get to return to it … was pretty cool. That’s the first time it’s ever happened for me.”
The fact that Monty Python has a long legacy and many, many fans, was not lost on any of these three actors, who spoke with Rough Draft ahead of the show’s second weekend. That legacy followed Idle when he decided to write the musical, and it still continues today.
“Eric Idle found himself in a unique position. He revisited a classic movie that nobody wants to see changed,” Uterhardt said. “But he had a chance to take that and transform it into something else.”
Now, these actors also find themselves in a unique position. How do you pay homage to something so revered while still putting your own spin on things? For Méndez, who hadn’t seen “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” until landing the role, the differences between the film and musical versions of Patsy helped him strike that balance.
In the 1975 film, Patsy (played by Terry Gilliam) doesn’t have quite as much to do as some of the other characters. But in the musical, his role increases significantly.
“I could take little bits of mannerisms and little aspects of the character, and then create my own sort of thing on the stage,” Méndez said. “There was a lot of room with that character to sort of get to play and take the things that I saw from the movie, but add a bunch of my own stuff to it.”
In Uterhardt’s case, he wasn’t just thinking about Graham Chapman – who plays King Arthur in the film – but another performer as well.
“Tim Curry – who’s a legend in himself – played King Arthur in the Broadway show,” Uterhardt said. “I would be lying if I didn’t say that I threw a couple of tributes out through the show.”
All that hard work paid off. The show runs like a well-oiled machine, with stunning sets, costumes, and choreography and vocals that are as tight as the comedy is absurdist. For as silly as “Spamalot” can be, it would behoove all of us to remember that comedy – really good comedy – takes as much fine tuning and hard work as a serious drama. On opening night, that labor was evident in the booming laughter echoing throughout the Byers Theatre.
“We need the audience to be having as much fun as we are onstage,” Méndez said. “We’re being so silly and having so much stupid fun onstage, that if the audience comes in with that same sort of mentality – that we just have to let loose and be as silly as they are right now – that’s the best audience you could ask for.”
Jones said that having gone without live theater for so long after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting to perform has become even more of a joy – particularly a show like “Spamalot.”
“It’s truly intoxicating. I mean, I love doing a dramatic piece,” Jones said. “But my gosh, nothing feels better than making people laugh.”
“Spamalot” will have its final weekend of performances March 23-26. You can purchase tickets here.