Tally-ho! Onward we go, questing through a very dark and expensive forest to meet the next knight in this interview series, Sir Galahad, played by the handsomely dashing and rather talented Nick Lehan. Jumping right into the thick of things, this marks the halfway point in the Grail series—a quest to learn the ins and outs of Toby’s production of Spamalot!
Amanda: Just a quick recap for those following along, where have we seen you recently, what were you doing before you donned a tabard and galloped along on a quest for the grail?
What made you come out and audition for Spamalot?
I love Spamalot and I love Monty Python. My father is a huge Python fan, so I was introduced to it at a relatively young age. The Monty Python brand has had a tremendous impact on what we expect from comedic pieces today: they paved the way, you know? You can see elements of their work in almost everything, so naturally I was interested in tackling it. I’ve also never been blessed with the opportunity to tackle a comedic piece like this, you know? There’s just something about putting up a show that is strictly designed to make people laugh. It’s straight Tomfoolery. It is so, so silly and it cracks me up!
When I heard the Toby’s was going to do Spamalot, I knew I was going to go out and audition. I had heard a little bit later that Mark Minnick was going to direct the show, and that got me even more excited. I knew he had some history with Spamalot, so I was interested to see his interpretation and adaptation to the round. I had never had the pleasure of working with Mark, but I have seen a lot of his productions and I love his work. Mark and Ross, our Musical Director, did a fantastic job with Legally Blonde at Toby’s and I very much wanted to join that team in Spamalot. It wasn’t hard to get amped for the audition. It was something I wanted.
You’re coming into this musical with a strong Python background and experience, so how do you think that has helped you or has it helped you in working on Spamalot?
My strong love and affiliation with Monty Python was actually a hindrance during the rehearsal process. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we aren’t out there trying to reinvent the wheel. When people come to see this show there is a strong expectation and we are asked to meet it. I think we do that very well. Leading up to and during the rehearsal process, however, I studied Monty Python and the Holy Grail a lot. I was really focused on, “what they did in the film.” That’s a trap. I took me awhile to accept that it’s a different medium; the stage is different than the film. We are still charged with telling the same story, but we are asked to do it in different setting. I was laser focused on John Cleese and Michael Palin and their various character tics, vocal inflections, comedic beat, and such in the movie. Those guys are brilliant, and I wish there was a way to pay complete tribute to that work in Spamalot, but they are separate works, you know? Mark was instrumental in helping me figure this out. He showed me that both works are funny for their simplicity and their honesty; we just have the task of doing it 8 nights a week to a crowded house. He would stress to us all the time – you’re not funny the material is funny. That’s something I remind myself before every show. You can’t get stuck thinking you are playing for laughs, you have to play to the honesty and simplicity in the piece and just let the writing take care of itself.
You play multiple roles for this show.
Yes. I start the skit as Denis/Sir Galahad, and then I have the opportunity to play The Black Knight, and then Prince Herbert’s father in the second act. I love this track and I am thankful for the opportunity to do it! So fulfilling.
Which one is the most difficult for you?
They’re all challenging in their own way. But in terms of what we were just discussing as far as the goals we the cast and Mark set aside, I would say Denis. That’s one of the first iconic scenes in the movie. I love that scene so much, but damn it if I didn’t rehearse that scene like I had cameras around me the entire time. I was so entrenched in how Michael Palin said it. Mark was hell bent on helping me and now it’s set the way it needs to be. When I have seasoned scene partners like Larry (Larry Munsey (King Arthur), Jeffrey (Jeffrey Shankle (Patsy) and Shawn (Shawn Kettering playing Denis’ Mother) working with me on stage, it makes my participation in the scene easy. It’s a joy to go to work. I love loving my job.
If Denis is the most difficult, which of your roles is the most exciting or the most fun?
I don’t show any favoritism, because I love them all. This character track is so awesome, and I love having the opportunity to play three vibrantly different rolls in one show. That being said, I do have a favorite scene scene.Sometime later in Act 2, there is a dialogue held between the Father and the Guard. Without giving too much away, I can only say that it is just stupid funny. It is quintessential Monty Python humor.
But I also love the Black Knight. I love the whole show.
Speaking of the Black Knight…without giving too much away, can you talk about the challenge of taking a character who was conceived for a proscenium setup and transitioning him into the round?
You’re in the round. That was the biggest concern I had going into the staging of the Black Knight. The original concept of Spamalot was for a proscenium stage. The costume we inherited was designed for a proscenium production and was built for a much larger actor. I eventually had subscribe to the notion that the audience buys what’s happening. Most Python fans, or even those familiar with the piece, know arms and legs are going to drop. You can’t hide in the round, and I think we did an excellent job making that scene work.
Talking about being in the round, what does it mean to be doing a traditional proscenium stage show in the round at Toby’s?
That was one of the more fascinating elements about this process. Alex Mustakas did an amazing job of bringing Monty Python to Broadway on a proscenium stage. As I have said earlier, Mark has a long history with that show, and I think the essential elements from those productions translated well. The round provides many challenges but also offers many gifts, I think. Staging in the round requires s a different set of skills than staging on a proscenium stage. Our production is unique and an original and fresh staging of the piece.
It’s really one of the most wonderful things to work with a company that you have complete faith in, you know? We’ve been given the tools to make and keep this a successful show.
In speaking with the other knights, I’m discovering that everyone came into this at varying levels of dance, so are you a ‘dance man’?
A dance man? Oh, no. No, no, no. No. I like to consider myself a very solid mover? In auditions if they ask for a double I say ,“I can give you an energetic double.” Sometimes I can land a clean double. I like consider myself to be a really good mover, but I would certainly not give myself the title of dancer. Don’t get me wrong, I can break it down sometimes, but it takes me a little longer to learn it and nail it – which I think separates the good movers from the real dancers. I like to consider myself an actor first, and then a singer. If I could start over, I would probably study Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Those guys are boss.
Is there a moment in the show that you’re in, or maybe you’re not in, that just cracks you up laughing every time?
I have to say, I’m very jealous that I don’t get to try my hand at some of the fun and exciting dance numbers. They look like they are all having so much fun. The moment that definitely makes me laugh is during the Gay Number, and I know the choreography from watching it so many times in rehearsal—they worked themselves to death on all the numbers—but the one part I love is when David Jennings does his final dance routine and frolics about that stage, and he does the snap on the off beat. It’s on purpose, but that kind of subtlety just cracks me up. It’s so funny! It makes me giggle every time I’m changing my costume.
You get to have a few solo moments and even a song with the Lady of the Lake, Priscilla Cuellar, who will be featured later in this series. What is it like getting to work alongside her in this production?
I love Priscilla. I love her so much. I did Big River with her at the Olney Theatre Center, maybe six years ago? We’ll just say it was a while ago. Since that time I have gotten to know her and cherish her as one of my dear friends. She’s an amazing person and I have come to appreciate people who are amazing people, not just amazing talents, but amazing people. She’s an amazing talent to boot. Every night when she sings “Find Your Grail” with her sincerity and honesty in it, it really touches me and it makes you think about the words in the song.
Working opposite her in “The Song That Goes Like This” at first was difficult because Mark said “just do it” and he didn’t really provide us with much else. He of course staged the number, but he more importantly encouraged us to figure out how we and our characters “fit” into the song. At the time I was frustrated by it because I wanted Mark to just simply tell me what he wanted and what to do. As time went on, I discovered what a gift that was: he gave us the simple permission to explore. Actors are weird, you know? We want structure, we don’t want structure, don’t tell me what to do, tell me what to do. In the end, I just wanted the song to land. I think it does now, and I’m very satisfied with the end result due to our collaborative effort. That kind of balancing act is the mark of a good director. He set us up for success, you know? That song always feels so fresh. I always feel good doing it.
Why should non-Python fans, or theatregoers who are not familiar with Monty Python, come see this show?
I haven’t come across that particular dilemma. The only real dilemma I’ve come across so far was knowing my grandmother was coming to the show. My grandmother is a beautiful woman. She’s an inspiration. She’s not one for the curse words and the potty humor, you know? There are others that feel the same way she does that come to see our show. While I’m sure there were a couple waves of shock, she ended up getting over it, and was able to say that she loved it. It’s an incredibly well-done show, and at the end of the days that is what you leave with.
How well do you think this show is going to appease the Python fans?
It’s going to appease the Python fans. Period. End of discussion. It just is. The humor is there and ripe for the picking. If you’re coming in expecting to see scene for scene The Holy Grail, you might be disappointed, but the essential elements and essence of Monty Python is littered throughout the musical..
Do you eat Spam? Have you ever eaten Spam?
No Spam is gross. Maybe that’s why I think it’s funny? I don’t know. I’m kind of afraid to even open it. Honestly.
Why see Spamalot at Toby’s?
You could see a tour. You could watch the movie, but you will hardly ever see it in the round. You won’t see a production anywhere else like this – you won’t.
Each time you see it you’re going to get an extremely clean and polished show. And we owe a lot of that to our creative team. We owe that to Mark, we owe that to Ross, and we owe that to Kate. There are so many people that make this production such a success and it’s worth seeing all of their creative efforts coming through in every show. The show is just fun. Come and join the party.
Click here to read the review for Spamalot on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Part 1 of The Interview Series that Goes On and On and On with Director Mark Minnick.
Part 2 of The Interview Series that Goes On and On and On with actor Darren McDonnell as Brave Sir Robin.