It has been four long years since the knights, knaves and ladies of Monty Python’s Spamalot stormed Broadway and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Ordinarily, it only takes a couple of years for Broadway musicals to make it to California, but the producers of this comical extravaganza first took the show to Las Vegas and, in the process, prohibited it from being performed on the west coast. Thankfully, the embargo has been lifted. The show will open at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles for a two-month engagement starting July 7.
This spoof of all things Arthurian — not to mention more contemporary concerns including same-sex relationships, military crusades in foreign lands and Britney Spears — stars John O’Hurley of TV fame as King Arthur and James Beaman as Sir Robin, a role originated by David Hyde Pierce (and also played on Broadway by Clay Aiken). In the show, Robin becomes renown for slaying “the vicious Chicken of Bristol” as well as for his sage advice to Arthur, “We won’t succeed on Broadway if we don’t have any Jews.”
Beaman recently spoke with Movie Dearest from San Francisco, where Monty Python’s Spamalot recently made its west coast premiere. He has been playing Sir Robin for eighteen months and loving it.
“I enjoy the fact that audiences, no matter how they start with us, are having a ball at the end of the show,” Beaman said. “It’s an infectious, joyful show; a big party.”
Beaman assured me that the touring production of Spamalot is the fully-orchestrated, original New York production, not the truncated 90-minute version that played in Vegas.
“It’s everything you want in a Broadway musical,” he continued. “It pokes fun but also has all the spectacle, dancing, etc. that one expects of a big Broadway musical.”
The British comedy troupe Monty Python has long tickled funny bones via their 1970’s television series and subsequent hit movies such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the direct inspiration for Spamalot), Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Original member Eric Idle is the author and lyricist of the stage production.
“The musical is an interesting hybrid,” in Beaman’s estimation. “The characters and tone are very authentic to Monty Python, but the show is also a tribute to musicals in general.” The actor grew up with Python thanks to his older brother, who was “a huge fan.”
Beaman, who is gay, admires the comedy of Monty Python for its “pre-political correctness.” He finds this attitude especially applicable to the GLBT community. One song in the musical, “Find Your Grail,” stands out for Beaman.
“People in our community have to work a little bit harder to get what we want in this life,” he says. “Find Your Grail,” arguably the one serious song in the entire show, encourages GLBT audience members in our own quest for acceptance and justice.
Beaman started out in New York City as a cabaret performer. He impersonated Lauren Bacall in his 1993 show Bacall: By Herself, and garnered enormous acclaim a few years later as Marlene Dietrich. In between, he starred in the original cast of the late Howard Crabtree’s gay revue Whoop-de-Doo! He also created and starred in Crazy World, an award-winning 2002 production showcasing the songs of composer Leslie Bricusse (best known for Stop the World, I Want to Get Off as well as the movie musicals Doctor Dolittle and Victor/Victoria).
I asked Beaman if he’d truly given up cabaret for good. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I certainly won’t be doing my impersonations again. It was almost accidental that I began doing them. I have no regrets and am a big fan of cabaret. In New York, it’s still the best way for someone starting out to get some notice.”
Just prior to Spamalot, Beaman starred with Maxwell Caulfield (of Grease 2 and TV’s Dynasty spin-off, The Colbys, fame) in a production of the seminal gay musical La Cage aux Folles at the Ogunquit Playhouse. “Maxwell is just a lovely man, and a charming, wonderful man to work with,” Beaman says of his still-attractive former co-star.
When he isn’t performing and is back in NYC, Beaman also works as a certified Pilates instructor. He was formerly partnered for 16 years, but is now single and “in the market.”
I asked Beaman what advice he might offer younger, aspiring GLBT performers. “I would say that even in today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure to put your sexuality in the back seat,” he replied candidly. “There’s more freedom to come out, but there is still a question of how important your identity is to you in the business: What role does your sexual identity play in your day-to-day work?”
Beaman stressed that a GLBT actor has to make a choice about whether to be out or closeted. He points to gay actor Richard Chamberlain, with whom he previously worked, as an example. “Richard told me, ‘If I had been out, I wouldn’t have worked.’ The biggest weight in this business is how great are your expectations? You aren’t always going to get your back patted or the encouragement you need.”
For at least a couple of hours this summer, GLBT and general theatre-goers can forget their troubles and enjoy an evening of music and comedy at Monty Python’s Spamalot. Beaman says on behalf of the company, “We’re very excited to play Los Angeles; we’re going to give LA our A-game!”
For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the official website of Center Theater Group.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.