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Spam and chocolate 

... and Shel Silverstein, too. Three new plays onstage this week

As a kid growing up in Virginia, actor Author Rowan wore out his VHS copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He was, he admits, "one of those people" constantly quoting lines from the classic British comedy, all through high school and beyond.

"Any time in my life," Rowan recalls, "every time I introduced myself, there was about a one-in-five chance that somebody was going to say [in a sonorous English accent] ‘Arthur - King of the Britons.' There was a point in time when it was getting really, really annoying, so I actually kept a running tally of how many people I heard use that joke. It was up to 620.

"But now, of course, that's not something I can actually complain about."

Being named Arthur has it perks when you're the lead actor - playing King Arthur himself - in the Broadway-on-tour production of Monty Python's Spamalot. With book adapted from the film by Pythonite Eric Idle, the multiple Tony-winning musical is a garish, loud and very, very silly send-up of both the Arthurian legend and the 1974 Holy Grail movie.

The tour stops at Savannah's Johnny Mercer Theatre Jan. 28.

After years of regional Shakespeare and renaissance fairs, Rowan says, "This is by far the biggest gig I've had. At this level, what is asked of you in terms of precision is a ton.

"We're not creating a performance of Spamalot from whole cloth. We're taking the template that was laid out by the very successful Broadway version, with Mike Nichols' direction. So we were drilled in rehearsal making sure that the quality of our performance was consistent, and that it was always in keeping with Mike Nichols' original vision. I feel like twice the actor I was before starting this process, just to have the opportunity to work with that kind of intensity."

All your Holy Grail favorites are here - the Black Knight, Tim the Enchanter, the French Taunter and the Knights Who Say Ni. Lancelot and Galahad and Robin and Prince Herbert. The Trojan Rabbit.

"For fans of The Holy Grail, it will be everything that they wanted," Rowan reports. "And having seen The Holy Grail is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying the heck out of this show. Besides taking a lot of the best scenes from the movie and sort of tweaking them, they tweaked the storyline a little bit. It doesn't have the depressing ending of The Holy Grail.

"And by adding in all of these wonderful new songs written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, it's able to take the incredibly sharp, intelligent comedy of Monty Python and sort it amp it up with the glitz and glamour and catchy show tunes of Broadway."

Rowan, who's also a singer/songwriter and musician, honed a spate of British accents over time spent in the thespian trenches. Still, he was a trifle nervous about his early days in Spamalot - was he using the right one?

"No one ever corrected me on it during the rehearsal process," he says. "And then when Eric Idle got a chance to see us doing the show in L.A. last year, he said to me backstage ‘Great work with the English accent.'

"So I thought, OK, if it's good enough for Eric Idle, it's good enough for me."

Monty Python's Spamalot is presented at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28. See etix.com

The Candy Man can

"This has been a little different," Christopher Blair says of his turn in the Savannah Children's Theatre adaptation of Willy Wonka. "But it's really rewarding because you see those kids progressing and growing. To see them learning and becoming better actors, better singers and better performers, that's really nice to see."

Blair, who's perhaps the busiest actor in town, plays the title character in Roald Dahl's timeless tale about an eccentric candy-maker who teaches kids important life lessons.

That's what Blair does in real life, too - he teaches at the Children's Theatre.

Like all SCT mainstage shows, Willy Wonka is a massive production, intended for both kids and adults. The cast ranges from the very young to ... well, let's just say older.

Of his school-aged castmates, "It takes them longer to learn it, as opposed to ‘seasoned actors' who do shows all the time," Blair explains. "It's a different process. Kids are kids, and they like to socialize. I compare it to working in a beehive. But a beehive is one of the most productive organizations you will ever come across in your life!"

Many people don't realize that the Children's Theatre is a full-scale performing arts venue, with all the necessary bells and whistles.

"You've got all the spectacle of, say, the Savannah Theatre," says Blair. "All those beautiful lights, and sets and costumes. Which, in a lot of the other plays that I do with other companies, we don't get! It ups the ante. It changes the game a little bit. I really like working a big way."

Willy Wonka runs Fridays-Sundays through Feb. 3, with evening performances and matinees. See savannahchildrenstheatre.org

Shel game

Bay Street Theatre begins 2013 with Shel's Shorts, a series of comic vignettes by the late satirist and songwriter Shel Silverstein. Bay Street did its first Silverstein collection in 2012, to great success. This is a different one.

It's a one-weekend-only production at Club One, opening Jan. 24.

The shows in each Bay Street season - the majority of them slightly across the tracks from the Neil Simons and Rodgers & Hammersteins of the world - have become an important stitch in the rich fabric of Savannah theater.

Similarly Christopher Stanley, director of Shel's Shorts, has been a key member of the Bay Street collective since Club One manager Travis Coles brainstormed it back in 2010.

Stanley is a DJ at Club One. You've seen him in Rent, Avenue Q, all the big grand ones and most of the little odd ones.

"I don't think I would be as involved with theater if Travis hadn't started Bay Street Theatre," says Stanley, a Boston native who came to SCAD 11 years ago to study painting. "Our schedules are never consistent, so to be able to just put a theater in the mix of the day-to-day doings of the club, is kind of a blessing."

An accomplished musician, Stanley has also musically-directed several Bay Street shows. He and George Moser composed original music for Shel's Shorts. "I enjoy theater, and I enjoy music, and I enjoy what I do combining the two," Stanley explains. "I'd like to something in music that doesn't involve theater, too. Music you can do very much on your own time. With theater, it's a community. You gotta be there for everybody."

It's that sense of family - of a community within a community - that brings theater people together. And for Chris Stanley and the others committed to making theater a vibrant and well-attended part of the bigger community-at-large, consistency is the key.

"I think there's still a hesitance in Savannah to see something that they don't already recognize," he says. "The same you might not go to a concert to see a band you've never heard.

"You just kind of work and get to that point that people know what you're going to put on is gonna be fantastic. At some point, I think, with the amount of amazing actors and directors and everybody here, if you come to see a show in Savannah you may not like the play, but I think you'll always like the performance."

Shel's Shorts is onstage at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24-27. See shelsshorts.com

 

 

 

 

 

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Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bio:
Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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Connect Today 12.03.2016

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