Cherie Messore Previews

First Look: ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’ at Kavinoky Theatre

A couple years ago, Arts Services of WNY participated in “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5,” a data review and analysis of 126 cultural and not-for-profit organizations that proved that the arts heavily contributes to our region’s economic  growth. The arts sector is a $352.1 million industry that supports all levels of employment, businesses of all sizes, cultural tourism, and the ever-important quality of life.

Slice that number down to one theatre and one production. “Kavinoky Theatre is an economic engine for a lot of businesses,” says the theatre’s executive artistic director Loraine O’Donnell.  ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot,’ the second of two large-scale musicals on the theatre’s schedule this season, opens Friday, January 11. O’Donnell says the show costs more than $100,000 to produce, mostly spent two months before opening night, and mostly with local vendors and businesses.  Places like DC Theatricks (for dozens of costumes, from tights and tunics to flowing robes), Scheule Paint Company (gallons of paint for David King’s elaborate set), area restaurants that craft dinner-theatre packages, and even the corner convenience store (ice ice, baby) play important cameo roles in this show.

“ ‘Spamalot’ is one of the largest musicals we’ve produced here,” O’Donnell says. “There are 19 actors on stage, plus a 10 piece orchestra, and four assistant stage managers to help the cast with more than 100 costume changes and plenty of scene changes, too.”

In other words, it takes a 12th century English village to make this production happen.

‘Spamalot’  is the stage adaptation inspired by the 1975 film ‘Monty Python and the  Holy Grail.’ While Kavinoky isn’t the first theatre to produce the show locally, as the region’s largest producing house, its audience expects an extraordinary experience. This means hiring union musicians (“they’re the same musicians who play in the orchestra pit at Shea’s,” O’Donnell says), creating a visual experience to match, and hiring top-notch local actors, and crew.  Or to paraphrase a song from the show “You Won’t Succeed in Buffalo if you don’t make it awesome.”

For O’Donnell, walking that tight rope between best quality and best value is a true balancing act. Ticket sales only provide part of the theatre’s income stream: the rest comes from private donors, corporate sponsors, and grants which are increasingly competitive to earn. “In this business, breaking even is considered a triumph,” O’Donnell says. “That’s why it’s so important to get people through the doors.”

Inspiring its audience with quality productions is at the heart of Kavinoky’s newly-defined mission to produce a mix of the classics, musicals and new works in order to expose our patrons and D’Youville students to the diverse creativity in all genres of theatre. O’Donnell says, “We’re going to continue to do two musicals a year.  It helps grow the subscriber base and musicals bring in new people.  Last season ‘Mamma Mia’s!” single ticket sales increased by 50%, and subscriptions increased by 20%.” While musicals have higher production expenses, O’Donnell says, “You have to spend money to make money.”

For ‘Spamalot,’ the Kavinoky has assembled a cast of some of Buffalo’s finest musical theatre talent: Gregory Gjurich as King Arthur, Louis Colaiacovo as Sir Robin, Dudney Joseph as Sir Galahad, Bobby Cooke as Sir Bedevere, Steve Copps as Sir Lancelot, Arin Lee Dandes as Patsy, and Michele Marie Roberts as The Lady of the Lake, with an ensemble including  Kelly Copps, Arianne Davidow, Doug Weyand, and others, directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato.

As we might expect, the cast is enthusiastic about the production and the timeless Monty Python clever wordplay. “Yes, it’s great to be king in the kingdom of Kavinoky with such spectacular subjects…and nobody had to vote for me,” says Gregory Gjurich, borrowing a line from  about his role as King Arthur. “I love the Monty Python movies. I aspire to any chance to work with Lynne, the Kavinoky, and plus they offered me the role, so I said hey OK! (That doesn’t happen often).”  Similarly psyched is Michele Marie Roberts, otherwise known as The Lady of the Lake. “I’m a working mother of two from Kenmore, and I volunteer monthly at Bingo,” she says. So when Lynne Kurdziel Formato and Loraine O’Donnell ask you to play an egomaniac diva at the Kavinoky with an amazing cast, you do it.”

‘Spamalot’ is on stage from January 11 to Februarry 3.  For tickets, call (716) 829-7668 or visit kavinokytheatre.com.