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Margherita, Beach & Casale round up “Spamalot” in Sacramento

July 8, 2010

Gary Beach (Arthur) & Andy Taylor (Patsy)

The problem with staging Monty Python’s Spamalot in the round is, “Where do you throw the cow? Do you take out Section E?” Those are believed to be rhetorical questions posed by Gary Beach (Beauty and the Beast, The Producers, La Cage aux Folles, Les Miserables) who reprises his role as King Arthur when the show opens July 9 at the 2,200-seat Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento. 

“Well, if anyone can figure that out,” Beach muses, “it’s Glenn.” Beach and director Glenn Casale have been friends for many years and Beach immediately agreed to the role when the call came earlier this year. “The timing was perfect, actually,” says Beach who was recuperating at home in Florida from hip replacement surgery. “I was ready to work.” 

Gary Beach

Beach is one of those guys who seems to always find work. “When Spamalot opened on Broadway [in 2005], I was across the street doing yet another La Cage aux Folles with Robert Goulet. When it opened on Broadway all the reviews said, ‘Well, it’s no Producers’ but I had the best time seeing it, then thought nothing more about it. La Cage closed and I went back to The Producers for a while. (Beach won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for the role of Roger DeBris in the Broadway production of The Producers in 2001.) Cameron Mackintosh was reviving Les Miserables and asked me if I’d do Thénardier, which I had done in the first LA production at the Shubert. 

“We were closing after a year and a half and I had been doing 8 shows a week on Broadway for about 8 years, so I was ready to do nothing for a while. Then I got the call: Would I be interested in playing King Arthur on the road for about six months in Spamalot? I hadn’t toured in 26 years! Everything’s changed – and not all for the better, I might add.” 

Beach looked at the itinerary and saw that it was one he could drive. It would put him in Vancouver for the month of July. “Plus, I’d spend a month in Philadelphia, which is basically home for me. I did the tour and had the time of my life.” 

Beach and director Mike Nichols go back to the 1970s when they did Annie together. “Mike wasn’t available, though, for the Spamalot tour. I spent an afternoon with the production coordinator in Manhattan and got some ideas. I left town, joined the tour, had four days of rehearsals, which isn’t a lot, and worked my ass off! We hit Miami, which is such a great town for Spamalot because you’ve got all those great jokes and songs like ‘You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have Any Jews.’ They ate it up with a ladle.” 

And now Beach is in it once again. He has worked in Sacramento off and on for more than twenty years. “Now it’s beautiful,” he says. “In the old days, we were in a tent. A very hot, stuffy tent! Now it’s fancy-schmancy.” 

Ron Bohmer & Lesli Margherita

Air conditioning certainly is a plus also for Lesli Margherita (2009 Olivier Award for Zorro) who portrays Lady of the Lake. “The last time I worked in Sacramento, I was in the tent, doing Man of La Mancha in a corset. It was like 200 degrees and I wasn’t sure I wanted to return.” 

After a multi-million dollar renovation, the Wells Fargo Pavilion (there are 3 stages in all, including a cabaret stage and a 3,000 seat proscenium theatre) has the air conditioning that will keep everyone cool. “But, really,” says Margherita, “people have been telling me for ten years that I need to do a show with Gary Beach and that we’d become fast friends. And I’ve wanted to do Lady of the Lake ever since I saw the show in New York.” 

Margherita got a call one day from friends who had just seen it on Broadway and told her she had to catch the next flight. She did and fell in love with the show and Sara Ramirez’s performance. (Ramirez won the Best Actress Tony in 2005 for her portrayal of Lady of the Lake.) “I thought Sara was amazing, but there’s so much you can do with it. Besides, it would be disrespectful to copy her – or anyone, for that matter.” 

Lesli Margherita

Margherita believes her Lady of the Lake will be sufficiently different than what anyone yet has seen. “It’s really not a huge stretch for me, sadly. When I told my husband that I got the role, he asked about the character. I wasn’t sure how to explain it, but I told him I’m playing a diva and I have this song about how my part is too small. He said, ‘Is this your life or the role you’re going to play? Did you even have to audition?’ ‘Yes! Yes I did’ I tell him!” and her laugh goes on longer than ‘The Song that Goes Like This’.

She’s wanted this part for years. When it came time to replace Ramirez on Broadway, Margherita auditioned. “I was devastated because I got to the end, but they always choose really tall show girls and I’m pretty short.”  

She’s tall enough for director Glenn Casale, Artistic Director for the last year and a half at Sacramento’s California Musical Theatre. Casale and Margherita previously worked together on a few productions, including Grease at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. “It’s a show you can run into the ground, so Glenn’s really smart: He casts people who’ve never done it before. That was the case at La Mirada and that’s the case now.”

Glenn Casale

Casale leads a Spamalot cast of 21. “I like to use new people so I don’t have a lot of actors who feel they’re stuck in their roles. I like to mix it up. Gary Beach and I are very close and I thought, my God, he’ll be great. But it’s the first time for most of the actors. It’s hard to cast, though, because you want to hire people who’ll work as a unit. You can’t have someone stand out and say ‘I’m going to be the funniest’ because as soon as you do it stops working. You have to let every page speak for itself.” 

Casale’s other challenge is to stage what’s commonly known as a proscenium show in the round. “That’s its own complication,” he says. “The first thing I did was environmentalize the theatre. When the audience walks in, they’ll walk into a Monty Python forest with four castles around it. The castles will be at the top of our four main aisles that lead to the stage.” 

There still is a fortress wall for the French Knight to move about and spout fart jokes. There’s no telling, however, where the cow will land. 

When I interviewed writer Eric Idle and John O’Hurley, who played Arthur in the Los Angeles run last year, they told me that the show really has no meaning whatsoever. It’s meant to be fun, an escape. Casale agrees with that, but adds, “You can’t help but notice the male bonding that goes on in the show. Even Arthur and Patsy – there’s a friendship there. Among the knights, too. And I think the message today is to always look on the bright side of life. It’s good to have a show with this many jokes and driven by this much humor, but we can look on the bright side.” 

The show is undeniably fun to watch and, presumably, fun to direct. “I’ve got my own little tricks, my own sense of humor,” Casale notes, “but you have to make sure it stays in Eric Idle’s humor. It’s different than shows like Anything Goes or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It’s more real. It’s more inquisitive. It’s a little more cerebral, even with the occasional scatalogical humor. Just the logic of it is funny.”

Casale holds the original Pythoners in high esteem. “John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gillam, Michael Palin, Eric Idle. They were such a genius group. And Eric is replacing John as the voice of God, something he wanted to do for this new venture.” 

Mika Duncan reprises his Broadway and Las Vegas role as Lancelot. Steven Strafford, another Las Vegas veteran, will play Prince Herbert. Music Circus vet John Scherer (1776 and Hairspray) returns as Sir Robin.  Ron Bohmer, who recently starred on Broadway as Father in the revival of Ragtime will play Sir Galahad.  The cast will also include Andy Taylor as Patsy and Ron Wisniski as Sir Bedevere, the first of his four productions this summer.  Tony Award-winner Gary Beach stars as King Arthur.  Beach, who appeared at the Wells Fargo Pavilion last summer as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, was nominated for Tony Awards for his performances on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, La Cage aux Folles, and The Producers for which he won a supporting actor award.

Spamalot opens July 9; plays 13 performances various days and times through July 18. Tickets $41-53. California Musical Theatre, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, CA 95184. (916) 557-1999 www.californiamusicaltheatre.com/

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