Aspen Community Theatre takes on ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’ |

Aspen Community Theatre takes on ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times

If You Go …

What: ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot,’ presented by Aspen Community Theatre

Where: Aspen District Theatre

When: Friday, Nov. 3 through Sunday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sundays)

How much: $20-$25

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office;

More info:

Aspen Community Theatre is on a quest to stage “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the madcap retelling of the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table based on the classic film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

The naughty, nose-thumbing humor that’s had teenage boys and Python fanatics giggling, going “Ni” and quoting lines for decades became an unlikely Broadway smash in 2005, winning the Tony for Best Musical. While incorporating the favorite bits for hard-core Pythonites — the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, Tim the Enchanter, “Run away!” and so on — the musical manages to please the uninitiated, as well.

One of the ways it expands its reach beyond the fervent Monty Python faithful is by brilliantly sending up Broadway and the tropes of musical theater.

“I love the stuff spoofing other musicals,” Gary Daniel, the veteran Crystal Palace entertainer who is playing King Arthur and has been an Aspen Community Theatre regular since the 1984 production of “Guys and Dolls,” said backstage at a recent rehearsal. “That’s a fun part, too.”

Producer Rita Hunter said she was more than a little surprised by the outpouring of love for the show from across demographics in Aspen this year: “After we announced it and I started talking to people, everybody was saying, ‘Oh my god, I love that show! Love it!’”

The show’s musical director, Bob Finnie, counts himself among the cult of “Spamalot.” Finnie, whose first show with Aspen Community Theatre was the vaunted 1997 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” worked as musical director of Theatre Aspen for many years and has returned to volunteer with community theater productions occasionally. These days he is mostly retired and living on the road in a camper trailer — bouncing between piano bar gigs around the West. But he jumped at the chance to do “Spamalot.”

“I couldn’t resist because I love this show,” Finnie said. “I’ve come out of retirement long enough to do this show and then I’ll go back into my hole.”

Sonya Meyer, who is making her Aspen Community Theatre debut as the Lady of the Lake, calls “Spamalot” her favorite musical. Meyer moved to Aspen last year, after acting professional in New York City, and has been performing with Thunder River Theatre and in the improv troupe Consensual Improv (fellow troupe members Nina Gabianelli and Gerald DeLisser are also in the cast). She hasn’t performed in a community theater production since she was in high school, but Meyer she had to be a part of this “Spamalot.”

Meyer recalled seeing it on Broadway as a teenager and playing the cast recording nonstop at home. One of her songs as the Lady of the Lake, “Whatever Happened to My Part,” has been her go-to audition piece since she was in high school.

“It’s so ridiculous and the timing is brilliant,” Meyer said. “It pokes fun at how ridiculous musical theater is. I’ve always loved musical theater, but I recognize that it is ridiculous. This show points it out in such a fun way.”

Directed by Colorado theater veteran Wendy Moore, assisted by her husband Bob Moore, the Aspen Community Theatre production and its cast of 26 have been in rehearsals since mid-September. The show opens tonight.

Pulling off the anarchic and absurd musical comedy in “Spamalot” adds an extra degree of difficulty for the cast and crew, Finnie said.

“I told the cast the first day, ‘If you’re going to spoof something, you have to do it well first so that it’s clear what it is that we’re making fun of,’” Finnie recalled. “That’s the challenge for us. We have to pull off a Renaissance minstrel song and a medieval Gregorian chant and a Vegas stripshow scene and a Barry Manilow thing along with the regular Broadway song and dance. All those elements, we have to do well, just for the spoof to work.”

Ditto for the elaborate sets (some of which are only onstage for a few seconds to hit a punchline) and the costumes (some actors have as many as seven changes in the show) and the choreography, which calls on these community theater actors to pull out all the steps.

“This show has bits and pieces of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ of ‘A Chorus Line,’ of ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and it has tap-dancing — every genre of musical is in this show,” choreographer Jennetta Howell said between rehearsal numbers.

But if any community theater can pull it all off, Howell said, it’s Aspen’s. The show is a homecoming for Howell. Her first acting gig was in Aspen Community Theater gig was when she was 16, in the still-talked-about 1997 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That show inspired her to move to New York after high school and become an actress.

“This was the pivotal moment in my life, working with Aspen Community Theatre,” Howell said. “I decided that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And after all these years, I’ve gotten to come back.”

She’s performed in Aspen Community Theatre shows in recent years since returning to the valley, and also worked with the Defiance Community Players in Glenwood Springs. Choreographing a show with the community theater company that shaped her artistic life when she was a teenager is bringing Howell full circle.

“It’s a big moment in my life,” she said. “It’s a dream.”