MUKILTEO — You could cut the excitement in the high school theater with a sword.
More than 80 students lined up next to the stage to audition for a role in “Spamalot,” Kamiak High School’s spring musical. Most of them were “theater kids” or “choir kids,” but there were several new faces. The school’s pianist sat at the ready, her fingers at the keyboard.
While some students practiced singing a few bars of songs from the show, others mouthed the lyrics or talked excitedly about which parts they were trying out for.
“No applause,” director and drama teacher Bryan Sullivan instructed. “It will take 40 million years if we do applause.”
Monty Python’s “Spamalot” was adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Like the movie, it is an outrageous parody of the Arthurian Legend. Written by Python member Eric Idle, it won three Tony awards, including best musical.
Kamiak is staging the musical comedy with surreal British humor this May. “Spamalot” retells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, featuring typical Monty Python zaniness such as the Knights who Say Ni and killer rabbits. The musical adds parodies of Vegas glitz and Broadway glam. (Ironically, Kamiak’s sports teams are called the Knights.)
Auditions were held Dec. 11-14. Students were tested on their singing, dancing and acting skills: Can they sing a solo? Harmonize with other voices? Dance in the style of the musical? Cold-read a scene or two? Do they seem natural on stage? Do they have comedic timing? Can they take direction?
Eighty-two students auditioned for 28 character parts, including King Arthur, Patsy, Sir Lancelot, Sir Robin and The Lady of the Lake.
Sixty students were allowed to give it one last stab — sorry for the sword puns — at callbacks. After dancing and singing, 22 were cut. After cold-reading some scenes, another 16 were let go.
“It’s nice because we have lots of options,” Sullivan said, “but it’s also tough because we have a lot of talented kids who might not be in the show.”
The Kamiak’s “Spamalot” has a cast of 45 actors, including 17 unnamed roles.
“The number of roles is very flexible,” Sullivan said. “The Broadway version had fewer than 20 actors, all performing multiple parts. There are close to 40 named roles, with a lot of room for a chorus of any size.”
Why a Monty Python musical? For one, the teachers didn’t want to do something that’s older than the students’ parents. For another, they have to make sure their students’ talents match the roles.
“We select musicals based on the talent we think we have,” musical director and choir teacher Nancy Duck-Jefferson said. “Just because I love ‘West Side Story,’ that doesn’t mean we should do it.
“The students have to bring it during the audition. We have to trust that they are the best person for the role. Sometimes we really put them through the ringer: We make them read different parts, give them different directions, make them sing another song.
“All this to make sure it’s the right decision.”
Diego Condit, a senior, is excited to be cast in the role of Sir Lancelot. It’s different than any other part he’s had before.
“I knew I wanted to audition for a major role, since this is my last show in high school,” he said. “I also knew that there were a lot of really fun parts in the show, so I was excited either way.”
Diego, 18, wasn’t as nervous to audition this year because he’s done it so many times before — until it came to callbacks. He noticed that a lot of the students could do solid British and French accents, while he struggled.
Ellie Kunard, a junior, will play Head Minstrel and a Laker Girl. She was in the ensemble in Kamiak’s “White Christmas” in 2016 and a principal dancer in “Footloose” last year.
“I wasn’t really too concerned with which part I got,” she said. “I can honestly say that no matter what part I get, I know I’m going to have a blast. I always do.”
Ellie, 16, has a severe love-hate relationship with auditions.
“I’ve always loved getting up in front of people and performing, but during auditions, you stand up offering yourself to be judged and picked apart,” she said. “I rarely get nervous anymore, but this year I definitely had some nerves ‘cause there was serious talent.”
Diego and Ellie both got their start in theater while students at Harbour Pointe Middle School. They’ve been hooked ever since.
Diego played the King of Hearts in Kamiak’s “Alice in Wonderland” last year and will be Phil in “Almost, Maine,” staged this weekend. He also wrote and directed the play “So You Think You Can Date” for the high school’s one-act play festival this year.
Duck-Jefferson and Ellie are Monty Python fans. When she was in high school, Duck-Jefferson would watch “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” over and over with friends.
“We would gather in the basement of my parents’ house with copious amounts of chips and pop, and quote all the best lines,” she recalled.
Ellie has seen all of the Monty Python movies.
“I think they’re hilarious,” she said. “I laugh at the dumbest and cheesiest things, and Monty Python is definitely cheesy.”
Sullivan knows first-hand how disappointing it can be to audition and not get a part. But he reminds students that no matter if they were cast or not, just getting up on the stage to audition is an accomplishment. Some never get up there and show what they can do, but these students went for it, he said.
“As we watched the auditions, we saw the support the students gave to each other as they took the stage,” Sullivan said. “That’s what I love about the theater community. It’s that idea of sharing your expression with each other.”
Sullivan and Duck-Jefferson may go back and forth on casting decisions during auditions. They agonize over it, lose sleep over it. But by the time they post the cast list, they’re in 100-percent agreement.
In the end, the teachers selected their cast:
The leads will be Aidan Norris as King Arthur, Diego Condit as Sir Lancelot, Ellie Kunard as Head Minstrel, Kennedy Miller as The Lady of the Lake and Mitchell Beard as Sir Robin.
In supporting roles are: Gavin McKeever as Patsy, Alex Callaway as Sir Bedevere, Matthew Ninh as Sir Bors, Jack Burrows as Dennis Galahad, Martin Albrecht as Prince Herbert, Bruce Vaughan as The Knight of Ni, Griffen Gonzales as The Black Knight, Eddy Kouthong as Herbert’s Guard and Tyler Vold as Not Dead Fred.
Kayla Morrison is The Historian, Charlie Southwick is The Monk, Kyus Wright is Soldier Carrying Dead, Paige Cox is The Concorde, Ryder Hobbs is Sir Not Appearing, Seth Bogue is Brother Maynard, Emmaline Almacen and Alliyah Olegario are French Guards, Anna Jordal, Rachel Leavitt, Natalie Houle and Georgia Vazquez are Laker Girls, Jake Carlos is a First Guard, and Eddy and Teddy Kouthong are Herbert’s Guards.
The ensemble includes: Aaron Banh, Lauren Bocalan, Jaymielee Cruz, Kristi Edmonds, Claire Goza, Maya Green, Tabitha Johnson, Julia Kim, Mia Lapingcao, Franklin Lelis, Kathryn McKenna, Riley McManus, Gabriella Slimp, Ines Sohn, Rebecca Southwick, Abygahle Stumpf and Lilliana Valencia.
Rehearsals start in February.
Mark your calendar
Monty Python’s “Spamalot” is showing at 7 p.m. May 4, 5, 11; 2 and 7 p.m. May 12 in Kamiak High School’s theater, 10801 Harbour Pointe Blvd., Mukilteo. A preview performance is 7 p.m. May 3. Tickets, $15 for adults or $10 for students and seniors, go on sale April 16. Call 425-366-5427 or go to www.kamiakarts.org for more information.
Spamalot, Act 1: Auditions
This is the first of a multi-part Herald series about the making of a high school musical. Follow the story of Kamiak’s “Spamalot” from auditions to closing night in Sunday’s Good Life section and online at www.heraldnet.com. The next installment, on rehearsals, will be published March 4.