Always look on the bright side of ‘Spamalot’
Michael Monagle as King Arthur, Joey McDaniel as Patsy and Brad Satterwhite as Tim the Enchanter, from left, in the Palo Alto Players production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” running April 28 through May 14, 2017, at the Lucie Stern Theatre. (Joyce Goldschmid / Palo Alto Players)
Andrew Ceglio, who has bounced back and forth from the Peninsula and Los Angeles for years, as an actor, director, choreographer, producer and voice-over actor, is taking on a new challenge: Directing and choreographing “Monty Python’s Spamalot” for Palo Alto Players.
“It’s my first time in any capacity tackling this show,” Ceglio said during a recent phone interview. “It is absolutely incredible. They did a great job of capturing everything in the Monty Python canon.
“It caught me off guard, just how massive this show is … the special effects, the working with the actors. I’m going to work and laughing my ass off for four or five hours at rehearsals.”
Ceglio’s most recent gig with Palo Alto Players was as Samovar in “A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine,” which closed in February. Then he repeated a bit from that play at the recent Players gala, “Make ’em Laugh.”
“The artistic director, Patrick Klein, called me in September of last year,” Ceglio said. “And mentioned they had lost one of their directors, and just kind of took a shot in the dark to call me. Patrick and I go way back, 10 or 15 years. I worked for him as an actor, he designed sets for me. He and I and Liz (Elizabeth Santana, Players managing director) and I have a rich history.”
“Monty Python’s Spamalot,” with book and lyrics by the Python’s Eric Idle, is a wildly silly and funny show, loosely based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which is loosely based on the King Arthur legend.
Everything Python ever did is loosely based.
Idle said he’d gotten tired of trying to talk his old Python mates — John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin — into doing a stage version of the film, and just went ahead and did it on his own.
And they all profited from it, because they all share the rights. “Spamalot” was a huge success on Broadway, and has been performed all around the world. It has led to such ancillary events as attempts to break the record for the world’s largest coconut orchestra — in the movie, and in the play, the actors trot along as if on horses, with the hoofbeat noise made by hollowed-out coconut halves. In 2006, 1,789 people formed such an orchestra in New York. That record was broken in 2007 in Trafalgar Square, London, by 5,567 people, including the cast of the London production, and Jones and Gilliam.
The London orchestra performed Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which he wrote and performed in the movie “Monty Python and the Life of Brian,” but also uses in “Spamalot.”
Idle also wrote new material for “Spamalot,” including “Whatever Happened to My Part,” which is sung by a character who appears early in the show, then disappears for a long time.
And, of course, there is the “Fisch Schlapping Dance,” “I Am Not Dead Yet,” “Laker Girls Cheer” and lots of other silliness, including The Knights Who Say “Ni,” the quest for a shrubbery, the deadly rabbit, the holy hand grenade and endless other gags.
It is no wonder that Ceglio was caught off guard by the size of the show.
“The show is meant for at least 25 cast members,” Ceglio said. “Our cast is 16. Literally, ensemble and principals at all times. It is quite an interesting challenge, for myself and the cast, to make sure every character is solid.
“I haven’t worked in Palo Alto before as a director, and it is great to see what an amazing talent pool they have.”
The show also features a live orchestra.
“Patrick is pretty adamant about getting the full sound,” said Ceglio.
And, live tap-dancing. Some productions have done such things as put the dancers on stage in tennis shoes, with a tap-dancing sound track. Not this show, which features live tap-dancers choreographed by Stephanie Bayer.
“It is a show, I think, for many, many different people,” said Ceglio. “What it does really, really well is it keeps accessible all the icons for the intense Monty Python fans, but keeps it open for those who might not know Monty Python.
“It’s wonderful to see how the show, its book and music, really encapsulates the work, and opens the door for people who really love Monty Python, and those who haven’t experienced Monty Python.”
What: “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
By: Book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Idle; “A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” from the original screenplay by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Director and choreographer: Andrew Ceglio
Tap choreography by: Stephanie Bayer
Music direction by: Katie Coleman
When: April 28 through May 14, 2017; (7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays)
Running time: 150 minutes, one intermission
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Age recommendation: Ages 11 and up
Tickets: $25-$55 (discounts available); paplayers.org or 650-329-0891