Robidoux Resident Theatre wants to politely ask fans of Monty Python and newcomers alike to grab their coconuts and head out on a goofy journey with its performers.
After years of waiting for the right time to perform it, “Spamalot,” the on-stage adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” comes to the Missouri Theater Oct. 24 to 26.
For longtime Missouri Western State University theater director Tee Quillin, helming the multiple Tony Award-winning musical was as coveted to him as the grail is to the Knights of the Round Table. It just took some time for him to come around to it.
“(Years ago), we were actually thinking about putting it on for the university. I remember thinking ‘I don’t want do that one yet, because ... it’s a different style of show. I think it’s going to be somebody else’s type of thing,’” he says.
That said, there was a part of Quillin that was willingly leaving the door open, a part that remembered when he first heard Monty Python skits while touring with a choir similar to the New Generation Singers.
“It was some of the funniest I’ve ever heard, not because I understood everything they were saying ... It was because it was just so insanely stupid and so incredibly double-timed. And you throw in all the British accents, I just couldn’t get enough,” he says.
With credits ranging from Missouri Western’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” to Western Playhouse’s “The Music Man,” Quillin decided to make the jump to Robidoux Resident Theatre when he was approached to direct the modern classic.
“I was like ‘I think I made a mistake. I really do want to do that. I think I do need that. I think I need to be completely insane, brainy, over-the-top, no-holds-barred.’”
While Quillin admits he’s been a longtime fan of Monty Python and the group’s show and films, he’s quick to point out that he didn’t want to do “Spamalot” to see the cast imitate some of his comedy heroes. In fact, he made sure to avoid all productions of it so his interpretation would be pure.
“I’ve never seen any tour that has come out. I didn’t see it when it was in New York. My only experience is the cast recording and the script that I’ve read and my personal experience with the film,” he says.
He adds: “I’m not coming into this with any preconceived notions ... (like) ‘This is the way it should be done.’”
He brought some Missouri Western stage veterans to mix in with seasoned RRT actors and actresses. That means RRT’s Tad Hopkins (King Arthur), Jenny Grechus (Lady of the Lake) and Richard Boehner (Patsy) are on stage with with Western’s Ian Fast (Robin), Thomas Delgado (Historian, French soldier) and Chuck Hazelwood (Bedevere). Quillin says the experience shared between the two groups has been highly collaborative and beneficial.
With such a diverse group, Quillin realized that his avoidance of the Monty Python musical wasn’t shared by all.
“There are those people that have seen it and saw it on Broadway and expected to have those things and those moments,” he says.
That means the big moments: King Arthur galloping through the forest with his squire, Patsy, mimicking horse hooves with coconuts, the Black Knight confrontation, the trojan bunny scene — they’re all there. But because of budget constraints and Quillin’s idea of what works and what doesn’t, other scenes had to get a bit more creative.
“They’ve been bringing some of those (big scenes) to the table and I’m like ‘Oh, well maybe that will work, maybe it won’t.’ It’s like ‘Does it work?’ ‘Can we do it’ and the other question is ‘Can we afford it?’” he says.
Being a Python fan, Quillin wanted to stick close to the comedy troupe’s ethos: keep things loose and off the cuff, and, in the case of “Holy Grail,” which was made with the micro-budget of $400,000, simple.
“It was almost a guerilla style of filmmaking, and I kind of like that idea — this idea of doing a show that just sort of feels like we’ve put that production in that same way kind of felt right but still going over the top when we needed to.”
Saying that, he’s quick to add: “I don’t want people to feel like they’re coming to see a cheap show, because they’re not.”
Judging by rehearsals, regardless of a budget size, it’s a show with big performances, huge dance numbers and swing-for-the-fences, show-stopping songs like Grechus’ “Find Your Grail” and the classic “Knights of the Round Table.”
It pokes fun at Broadway, itself and the cast without losing sight of the story and its own goals.
Quillin says there are even a few jokes thrown in about regional theater adaptations of huge Broadway musicals.
“We’re playing up to that. We’re not making fun of it, we’re just saying ‘This is who we are. This is our production of ‘Spamalot,’’” he says.