Looking Glass might have found its Holy Grail in "Spamalot'

News-DemocratMay 7, 2014 

Many actors in the upcoming production of "Spamalot" at the Looking Glass Playhouse could be classified as Monty Python fanatics.

"I have seen the movie ('Monty Python and the Holy Grail') several dozen times," said Charlie Knowles, 44, of Belleville. "And I don't think I'm the only one in the cast."

"Spamalot" is a musical stage adaptation of the 1975 comedy, which has developed an almost cult-like following.

It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 15-17, and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 18 at the community theater in Lebanon.

Knowles, a former Marine, plays a French soldier who taunts and insults King Authur and his knights, who are seeking help in their quest to find the Holy Grail.

"It's the traditional British French rivalry -- greatly exaggerated," Knowles said. "You might say it's on steroids."

Knowles also conducts the orchestra in the Looking Glass production. His 15-year-old son, Will, plays a Knight of Ni.

"Spamalot" has more than 40 cast members. It's being directed by Gigi Dowling Urban, who also serves as choreographer.

"We hope to attract not just typical patrons who love great musical theater, but also folks who have never been to the playhouse and just love Monty Python," she said.

The biggest challenge for Urban was balancing the desire for creativity and innovation with the need to stick close to a script that some people know by heart.

"You have to keep that respect for the material and certainly respect for the fans," she said.

The crew also faced technical hurdles, figuring out how to present a flying cow, a killer rabbit and the "holy hand grenade of Antioch."

Looking Glass is expanding its technological horizons with the use of computer animation, projecting backgrounds and an interactive map that follows King Arthur's journey.

"We are the first community theater in the region to get the rights to perform ('Spamalot'), and that's a real mark of distinction," Urban said, noting Looking Glass also was first to stage "Titanic," "Proof" and "Chicago."

"Spamalot" stars Russ Reidelberger as King Arthur, Jeff Yapp-Ellis as Patsy, Liz Murphy as Lady of the Lake, Mitch Ellis-Yapp as Sir Robin, Chad Rakers as Lancelot, Brian Scheppler as Gallahad and Bruce Vick as Bevedere.

"I guess technically I'm the lead in terms of stage time," said Reidelberger, 38, of Belleville. "But from a comedy standpoint, King Arthur almost plays the straight man. He just sets up all these jokes for everybody else."

Reidelberger wasn't a Monty Python guru before this spring. He auditioned for the part mainly to become more familiar with its unusual brand of humor.

"It's a challenge," said Reidelberger, an English teacher at Belleville West. "There are times when it goes fast. The lines almost have to be delivered in machine-gun style.

"But there are other times when the comedy is in the pauses. You have to be careful that you're not rushing through a scene or dragging a scene out."

Music ranges from tender ballads to chorus-line numbers to "Copacabana" style songs.

Costumers Peg Zuger and Jason Johnson created or re-created about 300 costumes for "Spamalot" characters, ranging from mimes to showgirls, zombies to can-can dancers.

"We have a special Black Knight costume (for actor Mike Huelsman) that allows Arthur to cut off both of his arms and both of his legs in a sword fight," Urban said.

Knowles insists audience members need not be Monty Python fans to enjoy "Spamalot."

"There's a lot of dry British humor, and it gets raucous at times," he said. "It's a very well-written show. It appeals to all generations and all types of humor. It's really, really funny."

At a glance

What: "Spamalot"

Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. May 15-17 and 2 p.m. May 18

Admission: $10 to $12 with discounts for LGP members, students, senior citizens and military personnel with ID

Online reservations: lookingglassplayhouse.com (people can now pick their seats)

Phone reservations: 618-618-537-4962

Tickets: Also available at the door unless show is sold out

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