MUKILTEO — If they did it all for the laughs, then it was worth it.
Because, boy, did they get laughs.
Kamiak High School staged Monty Python’s “Spamalot” on May 4-12. The musical comedy is an outrageous parody of the Arthurian legend, based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It’s a retelling of the tale of the Knights of the Round Table the way only the Pythonites know how: with Vegas glitz, Broadway glam and zany British humor.
But it was that sense of humor that made “Spamalot” a challenging selection for Kamiak’s spring musical. The students not only had to act, sing and dance — they also had to be Monty Python funny.
Director and drama teacher Bryan Sullivan warned them not to expect how an audience will react: One joke could get uproarious laughter in one performance and only a few chuckles in the next.
“Even though you’re getting used to where people laugh, don’t sit back in that,” Sullivan said. “If you pause and wait for laughs, you could get crickets.”
Maybe they hadn’t seen the movie, but with hard work they got the comedy down.
The students worked so much on comedic timing in rehearsals that some of their jokes sounded stale to them. But, come showtime, the audience sure thought they were funny. On stage is where the jokes were fresh for them again.
“It’s really fun to hear a joke work in the show,” Sullivan said. “The students were reading the audience and playing for laughs. They were actually living those characters on stage, enjoying the satire and the ridiculousness of it all.”
One trick to that? The directors cast several of the ensemble characters in featured roles because the comedy clicked with them: Tyler Vold was Not Dead Fred and Tim the Enchanter. Bruce Vaughan was The Knight of Ni and Galahad’s Mother. Griffen Gonzales was The Black Knight and The French Taunter.
“We were fortunate that we have a lot of smart kids who understand the humor,” said Nancy Duck-Jefferson, music director and choir teacher. “A few of them were even Monty Python fans before the show was announced. But those characters were really important. They just got the timing, the accent. Nobody else came even close.”
Bruce as The Knight of Ni and Griffen as The Black Knight even improvised one of their lines each night. It turned into something of a competition to see who could get the most laughs, or even better, make a fellow student actor break character and laugh on stage.
“Our teachers wouldn’t have liked it, but it would have been funny,” Bruce said. “I don’t think we got anyone to break, though.”
Bruce was one of just five freshmen cast in the show. He also is one of the Monty Python fans. The 15-year-old and his stepdad bonded over their shared love of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
As The Knight of Ni, Bruce’s costume involved wearing stilts, a long cloak and a helmet with horns. When in costume, he stood nearly 11 feet tall. The absurd, cartoonish leader of the Knights Who Say Ni was his favorite character to play — and not just because he towered over everyone on stage.
“The director told me to make silly faces and pause dramatically at random points. It’s mostly in the face. I also did this high-pitched, almost frog-like voice. I definitely had fun doing the voice.”
Fans of the show told Kennedy Miller that she should consider a career in comedy, she said.
The senior played The Lady of the Lake, King Arthur’s love interest who Kennedy describes as over-the-top. One example: Her diva-like character sings “Knights of the Round Table,” after quick-changing into a Cher costume bedazzled with sequins and feathers. Her character lays on the Vegas and Broadway jokes.
Though this is her second and last show with Kamiak, Kennedy, 17, has been involved in musical theater since she was 5 years old. She also played Rusty in Kamiak’s “Footloose” last year.
“It gets kind of emotional because I’ve only done the two musicials,” she said. “They were the two most memorable experiences of my high school career. It was such a fun show and I made so many new friends. It was stressful sometimes, but thinking back, I’ll only remember the fun times.”
The audience also went crazy for Mitchell Beard when he performed the wild number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” as Sir Robin. Robin is a scared but ambitious character who becomes a Knight of the Round Table for the singing and dancing. His song proves to King Arthur that he doesn’t have what it takes to make a Broadway musical.
“After the musical, I have a lot more respect for Monty Python,” Mitchell said. “They did a really good job of taking the best parts of the movie and turning it into a musical. It’s pretty random and pretty crazy, but there’s a lot more that goes into it than you’d think.”
Like his character, Mitchell’s “grail” is musical theater. A senior, Mitchell acted in each of Kamiak’s musicals the past four years, including as Ren in “Footloose” last year. The 18-year-old plans to major in musical theater at Belmont University in Nashville.
The directors like to save all of their pep talks for opening and closing night.
“This is your show now,” Sullivan told the students backstage on opening night. “You’ve worked hard on it for months and months, you’ve perfected every tiny moment in the show, and it’s yours to peform. Show the audience what you can do.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org; @sarabruestle.
Spamalot, Act 5: The Show
This is the last of a five-part Herald series about the making of a high school musical. Follow the story of Kamiak’s “Spamalot” from auditions to closing night online at www.heraldnet.com.
Kamiak High School was featured because it won the 5th Avenue’s top award for high school musical theater in 2017.