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Two for the stage

The Civic's Spamalot and IPFW's Gint

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-02-24


“…dance routines and chorus scenes with footwork impecc-able…”

The Civic’s production of Spamalot, the king of musical spoofs

Fans of the Andrew Lloyd Webber brand of musical should probably avoid Spamalot. In fact, anyone who holds the conventions of musical theater as sacred will probably object to Spamalot on the basis of a few of the song titles alone.

Like “Whatever Happened to My Part?” where The Lady of the Lake (played by Jessica Butler in the Civic’s production) bemoans her lack of stage time in the second act.

Or “The Song That Goes Like This,” a send-up of those big Andrew Lloyd Webber showstoppers, usually featuring the male and female leads singing to each other. In this case, the honors go to Ethan Bair (as Galahad) and Jessica Butler again, who belt out lines like “I’ll sing it in your face/while we both embrace/and then we’ll change the key.”

And, as those particular numbers often are, the song is reprised towards the end of the first act, and then brought back again in Act II under the title “Twice In Every Show.”

Then there’s “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway,” about the lack of prospects the story the audience is currently watching making it to the stage…

So, if you take musicals too seriously, Spamalot might get under your skin a little bit.

Fortunately, it’s not something that troubles Doug King, who directs and choreographs the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s production of Spamalot. And he loves musicals. In the last several years he’s directed and choreographed the Civic’s productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Suessical, and Cinderella, just to name a few.

But King says Spamalot’s not-so-gentle tweaking of musical theater fits right in with his sensibilities. “Musical theater is not Shakespeare and I don’t pretend it is,” he laughs. “You know, when the characters are doing a love scene and break into a song, it can be sort of silly. I used to make fun of that scene in The Sound of Music, where they’re singing to each other in the garden. My mother would say ‘Stop it! It’s my favorite part! It’s so touching.’ And I’d say ‘But they’re singing to each other! Why don’t they just kiss?’”

Then again, it’s not likely anyone who goes to see Spamalot — hard core fan of musical theater or not — is expecting anything too serious. A musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, adapted by former Python Eric Idle (with help from Python associates John Du Prez and Neil Innes), Spamalot takes source material that was already silly, bizarre, and surreal and makes it more so, all while spoofing Broadway musicals. And then it throws in a classic Monty Python tune (“Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”) from a different movie for good measure.

The play’s original Broadway run garnered plenty of awards and nominations, winning a Tony for Best Musical in 2005, and broke box office records. The critics liked it, too, for the most part.

But perhaps more importantly, Spamalot got the nod of approval from fans of Holy Grail, one of the most quotable and quoted film comedies of all time. “(The musical) trims down some of the longer subplots, but the basic movie is the same,” says King. “Pretty much all the familiar scenes are there and in tact, like Tim the Enchanter and the Swamp King and Prince Herbert and the French taunter… are all lifted directly from the movie.”

King adds that during auditions they had a few fans of the movie who said they’d just be happy playing a guard or being an extra in a certain scene. King couldn’t accommodate — there’s lots of singing and dancing required — but the enthusiasm speaks to how many people love the original story.

Adapting that material has been both challenging and fun. “Obviously, we don’t want people to walk away saying ‘oh, they really missed the mark on that one scene’,” King says. “But our actors are just so very talented; they’ve really brought a lot to it. They’ve taken the base of the scenes and made it their own from there. We’re having fun with it.”

Scott Rumage was one of those hopefuls who auditioned for Spamalot just because… well, because it was Spamalot. A veteran of quite a few stage productions in Fort Wayne, Rumage said in his audition notice that he’d take any part they offered. They ended up offering him King Arthur, his first musical lead at the Civic.

Rumage stops short of identifying himself as a rabid Monty Python fan, but he’s seen and enjoyed the movies (though it’s been a while) and remembers when the TV show could be seen in re-runs on PBS. “I knew a few of the scenes, like the Black Knight and the killer rabbit,” Rumage says. “It’s kind of silly stuff, and this is a silly show, but it’s a silly show with a terrifically talented cast. And besides, how many times do you get to pretend to ride on a horse with someone following you clacking coconuts together?”

Rumage and the rest of the cast have their own way of performing familiar material. “I will not watch that movie again until after the show is over,” laughs Rumage, adding that he won’t watch YouTube clips of the stage production either. “I want King Arthur to be developed based on what the script says. The words are there, the actions are there; it’s just a matter of interpreting it through my own eyes. And that’s exactly the way we approach it.”

The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Spamalot

Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Saturday, February 22 at 8:00 PM
Sunday February 23 at 2:00 PM — matinee

Friday, February 28 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, March 1 at 8 pm
Sunday, March 2 at 2 pm — matinee

Friday, March 7 at 8 pm
Saturday, March 8 at 8 pm
Sunday, March 9 at 2 pm — matinee

Tickets:

$29 Adults
$24 Sunday Senior Matinees
$17 Age 23 and under

Prices include ArtsTix Box Office fees

For tickets, call (260) 424-5220 or go to fwcivic.org

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Mountain myths
IPFW’s Gint puts Ibsen’s classic in Appalachia

The myths, legends, and folklore of a culture can make rich source material for art, and probably one of the best examples in drama might be Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. The folklore of Ibsen’s Norway gives Peer’s epic journey — from wastrel to outlaw, from wealth to dissolution — a strange blend of the realistic and the fantastical that makes the play hard to categorize, but extremely interesting to generations of actors, directors, and audiences.

While there have been many interpretations of Peer Gynt, American playwright Romulus Linney IV (father of actress Laura Linney) went a step further with his play Gint. Linney doesn’t adapt Ibsen’s play; he completely transforms it into a uniquely American story, beginning its action in early 20th century Appalachia and infusing Pete Gint’s journey with the folklore of the region, just as Ibsen drew from Norwegian folklore for Peer Gynt.

Linney also shortened the story quite a bit — Ibsen’s five-act epic can take between five and six hours to perform in its entirety, while Linney’s Gint clocks in at about an hour-and-a-half — and Americanized the language.

Jeffery Casazza, associate professor at IPFW’s Department of Theatre and the director of the department’s production of Gint, is quick to point out that the play doesn’t deal in stereotypes and caricatures of the region. In other words, this ain’t The Beverly Hillbillies (or Deliverance, thankfully). “It actually takes the culture very seriously,” Casazza says. “So some of the wild, outlandish things that happen, you might see something that makes you think ‘I’ll bet that’s where that stereotype comes from’.”

Freshman Chance Parker plays Pete Gint, and the rest of the cast is also made up of IPFW students. Linney wrote the play expecting it to be performed by a group of young actors, even the older characters.

Like the original play — or the best folktales — Gint addresses some serious themes without being heavy-handed, using outlandish (and sometimes silly) scenes and characters to make its point. While the story itself is relatively simple and straightforward, the overall tone is not realistic. “It’s very dreamlike and very fantasy-like in what happens,” Casazza explains. “Pete has these wild adventures, but at the same time the story asks some very serious questions.”

Casazza and the cast were drawn to the theatricality of the work and the challenge of telling it visually on stage. Gint uses a variety of puppetry — all operated by the cast — to make those fantastical elements come alive. “At the beginning of the story, Pete is telling his mother this story about a stag,” says Casazza. “When I was reading it, I kept seeing a miniature stag in the distance, mirroring Pete’s story. I thought ‘well, we could do that with a puppet…’ And if we’re going to do it there, where else can we use these elements?”

As we said above, despite Gint’s more fantastical elements, the setting and the Americanized language make the play accessible to any audience. It’s a clear, straightforward story with striking visuals. When it comes to interpreting Gint, most of the “work” falls to the cast and crew, and happened during all the rehearsals leading up to the performances. That’s because Linney’s script contains no punctuation, meaning the young actors have to discover the truth in the text. “It’s been very exciting,” Casazza says. “In a way, it’s like the play itself, because with the text (the actors) become sort of like adventurers, searching for what is the ‘truth’ here. We’re searching for the best way to visually present this story, and combining that with the language. It’s been a great experience to dive into this work.”

The IPFW Department of Theatre presents Gint

Fridays, February 21 and 28 at 8 PM
Thursday, February 27 at 8 PM
Saturdays, February 22 and March 1 at 8 PM
Sunday, March 2 at 2 PM (sign language performance)

Williams Theatre
IPFW North Campus
2101 E. Coliseum Blvd

$15 and under. $5 for IPFW students/high school students/under 18.

Call the IPFW Box Office for tickets at 260-481-6555 or or visit ipfw.edu/vpa/theatre

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