By George Basler
Theater officials swear it’s a coincidence, but fans of the British comedy troupe Monty Python should be licking their chops with glee.
That’s because two local theater companies — the Endicott Performing Arts Center and the Cider Mill Playhouse — will be mounting productions of the Broadway smash musical Spamalot over the next seven months. That’s a lot of “spam” for a community this size, and officials emphasize it came about by chance, not by planning.
Now they hope that there are enough Python fans to support both productions.
“I never would have approved it if I had known they (Cider Mill) were doing it in the spring,” acknowledged Patrick Foti, artistic and executive director at EPAC.
But, Foti said, he wasn’t aware that Cider Mill was doing the same show until after EPAC announced its schedule in August.
One reason could be the fact that, while he has close connections with many other theater companies in the area, Foti said he is less connected to the Cider Mill. “It (the production overlap) was a surprise to a lot of people,” he said.
Penny Powell, artistic director at the Cider Mill, also said the dueling Spamalots caught her by surprise. Her theater had been looking to produce the Python musical for two years, and she didn’t know another group also was producing it until she saw EPAC’s advertisement, she said.
“We don’t look at anybody else’s schedule to make a decision. We look at how it fits into our plans,” Powell said.
EPAC’s production will be first out of the box opening Friday (Nov. 8) at the Robert Eckert Theatre, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott. The Cider Mill production is next June.
Officials with both theater groups said they are presenting the show because it’s a real crowd pleaser. Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the musical spoofs the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and also includes brief bits from the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show. The original Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, ran for more than 1,500 performances and won the Tony for Best Musical in 2004-05.
“Public demand and popularity have a lot to do with what we stage,” Foti said, adding that Spamalot falls into that category.
Still he knows local theater groups compete for patrons in a limited market, and two Spamalots may be an embarrassment of riches. He hopes Python fans will go to both productions if only to see how they compare.
Powell believes both productions can be successful because they are far enough apart in time, and enough Python fans are in the area to go around. “Oh my gosh, for sure (both productions can work). Everybody loves Monty Python,” she said.
Foti, who is directing the EPAC production, is enthusiastic about the work being done by the large cast of some 30 performers. “It’s a fun show, loaded with costumes, props and scenes,“ he said.
Chris Nickerson, who has performed at numerous regional theaters and ones in South Carolina and New York, will play King Arthur at EPAC. Jana Kucera, who has sung with the Summer Savoyards, local theater companies and the New York Lyric Opera, will play the Lady of the Lake. Musical direction is by Kris Gilbert and choreography is by Emily Foti.
Both Foti and Powell admit to being huge Python fans. Powell appreciates the troupe’s combination of smartness and silliness. Foti relishes in “the boy humor that attracted me as a boy and stuck.”
EPAC wasn’t trying to beat the Cider Mill to the line by staging the musical this fall, he emphasized. “It wasn’t a race. It just happened that way,” Foti said.
But, in response to a question, he couldn’t help but throw a humorous gauntlet in the direction of the Cider Mill. “No I won’t be going to their production, because we’ll be blowing them out of the water,” he said.
IF YOU GO: The EPAC production will be performed this weekend and next (Nov. 8-10 and Nov. 15-17) at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets at $20 ($18 for seniors 65 and over, and children 12 and under) are available by calling 785-8903 or online at www.endicottarts.com. Tickets also can be purchased at the EPAC box office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.