In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the cast of The Port Tobacco Players’ Spamalot, meet Carmel Ferrer.
Tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages.
I’ve done shows in the area since 1993, starting with Chess at Dominion Stage. My home base for the most part has been The Arlington Players, where I played Mother in Ragtime, Lucy in Jekyll & Hyde, Sarah Brown in Guys & Dolls, Alaura/Carla in City of Angels, Rose in The Secret Garden, and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among other roles.
At the Little Theater of Alexandria, I played Abigail Adams in the 1999 production of 1776 as well as Anne in Shenandoah. Other roles include Marian in The Music Man and Marjorie in Extremities at Dominion Stage, Florence in Rockville Musical Theater’s Chess, Aldonza in Man of La Mancha at Greenbelt Arts Center, Prudie in Pump Boys and Dinettes with the Keegan Theatre, and Nancy in Oliver! and Rose in Song of Singapore at (the now sadly defunct) Springfield Community Theatre. My most recent role was Yvonne in Sunday in the Park with George at Kensington Arts Theatre in 2012.
Tell us about the character you play and how you relate to her.
I play the Lady of the Lake, a mysterious enchantress of sorts who turns out to be…well, I won’t spoil it. It’s a fabulous part, and I relate to her inasmuch as I try to encourage others to find their own “grail.” I don’t, however, spend much time lying in ponds distributing swords.
What has been the most fun playing her?
It’s such fun acting and singing opposite my husband, Jimmy Payne, who plays King Arthur. We’ve been doing shows together since LTA’s 1776 (where we met), but this is the first time we’ve gotten to kiss onstage!
I’m also thoroughly enjoying the variety of singing styles I get to assay. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and I love it.
Have you appeared in any other productions of Spamalot?
This is my inaugural Spamalot.
What have been some of the challenges you have had preparing for your role and how did your director help you with these challenges?
Well, the Lady is less a fully drawn character than a device: she exists to help King Arthur fulfill his destiny. Sometimes that means lifting his spirits; other times, it means being the Eydie Gormé to his Steve Lawrence. Brooke Howells-Weiser, our director/choreographer, has been wonderful about letting me explore within the boundaries of the character and encouraging me to play with it.
Vocally, the role is a veritable Mt. Everest. The vocal range is E below middle C to high B; that’s nearly three octaves (and I riff higher than that in “Find Your Grail”). And then there are all the musical styles! I go from an ethereal siren song to a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber to a Vegas number to a Whitney Houston-type gospel piece — and that’s just in Act I. It tests every corner of my range and all of my vocal skills. Jim Watson, our musical director, is terrific; he understands how the voice works, and gives me the latitude and flexibility to adapt my particular vocal strengths and limitations to the songs.
Tell us about your big numbers and what you learn about your character during the song?
My two biggest numbers are “Find Your Grail” and “The Diva’s Lament” (aka “Whatever Happened to My Part”). They’re both vocally grueling, and each presents a different aspect of my character. “Find Your Grail” is, in effect, the message of the show: “If you trust in your soul/Keep your eyes on the goal/Then the prize you won’t fail/Find your grail, find your grail.” It gives Arthur and his knights the impetus to keep going, and it’s the Lady at her most commanding and inspiring.
“The Diva’s Lament,” on the other hand, isn’t so much the Lady of the Lake as a prima-donnaish version of the actress playing her. What you find out is that (1) she has a fragile ego and needs to be in the spotlight constantly, (2) her castmates don’t like her, and (3) she can’t abide Britney Spears. By contrast, (1) I enjoy the spotlight, but I also like having down time backstage to catch my breath; (2) if my castmates don’t like me, they certainly hide it well; and (3) I can’t abide Britney Spears.
What is your favorite song in the show that someone else sings and why?
I’m terribly fond of “I’m All Alone,” for reasons that will be apparent to anyone who hears my husband sing it. I also love “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” which Brian Merritt (Sir Robin) sings with the ensemble. There’s so much going on in that song — and there are so many inside theater jokes. It manages to be both affectionate and completely irreverent, and it cracks me up every time.
What have you learned about yourself the actor while performing your role in Spamalot?
When you get to be 50-something, you worry that your skills have diminished and you won’t have the same ability to command a song (let alone a stage) that you had in your 30s. That feeling gets even stronger when you’ve had an extended absence from performing. It’s nice to find out I can still bring it!
Which character in the show is most like you and why?
The killer rabbit. I may appear warm and fuzzy…but I’ll do you up a treat if you get on my bad side.
What do you admire most about your fellow castmembers?
This is my first show with Port Tobacco Players, and they’ve all been so welcoming and supportive. They’re also game for just about anything. It’s a great group of people.
Why do you think Spamalot is still so popular?
All these years later, Monty Python and the Holy Grail still makes people howl with laughter. The musical honors that while adding its own special goofiness. It’s just funny.
Which costume in the show is your favorite and why?
We have an astounding team of costumers. I’m blown away by everything they’ve made, but I think Pat Pruitt’s costume for the Knights of Ni is my favorite. And I adore all of my costumes! They’re absolutely gorgeous. Carol Russell did them, and I feel so lucky; she’s incredibly talented as well as collaborative.
What do you want audiences to take with them after watching you perform in Spamalot?
I hope they leave feeling like they got their money’s worth, and that seeing our show inspires them to continue supporting community theater. And to never underestimate seemingly harmless little bunnies.
Meet the Cast of ‘Spamalot’ at The Port Tobacco Players: Part 1: Jimmy Payne.
Meet the Cast of ‘Spamalot’ at the Port Tobacco Players: Part 2: Ryan Dolan.