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September 29, 2006

Brave Sir Robin rides to Ohio

When one mentions the phrase “Holy hand grenade,” what comes to mind?

When asked to “Bring me a shrubbery,” what do you do?

Were someone to tell you, “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries,” what might your reaction be?

If none of these questions sounded out of the ordinary, oy, is October the month for you!

Monty Python’s Spamalot, the “musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” is coming to Ohio in its premiere tour, and will be stopping in both the northeast and southwest of the state.

For those not quite hip to the lingo, Spamalot is a comedy retelling of the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, primarily the bit about the search for the Holy Grail.

Among those knights is brave Sir Robin, who is not quite as brave as Sir Lancelot but was played in the movie by Eric Idle, who wrote the book for the musical, so there.

In the Broadway production, Sir Robin was David Hyde Pierce, perhaps best known for portraying Niles Crane for about 734 seasons of the sitcom Frasier.

Stepping into his shoes for the tour is David Turner, whose efforts on Broadway have included In My Life and The Invention of Love. He will return to the Great White Way soon for Harmony, Barry Manilow’s tribute to the Comedian Harmonists of Germany.

For the month of October, however, Turner belongs to Ohio, and he’s a dreamy dish we ought to make good use of.

Turner is from Ridgewood, New Jersey, and went to Williams College in Massachusetts before settling in New York City.

“I moved all the way from New Jersey to New York,” he said. “I really made it!”

When talking about the tour’s first Ohio stop in Cleveland, Turner admitted that he had never been there.

“No, I never have, but it’s always been my dream,” he deadpanned.

Not only will it be his first time in town, but it’s also his first theatrical tour.

“I’ve always worked in New York, but this is an experience I wanted to have while I was young, living on the road,” he said.

While there is no boyfriend or partner being left behind, he understands how touring can be difficult on a relationship.

“A lot of people [in the show] are married, some even have kids,” he noted. “I don’t know how they do it. I have enough trouble staying in touch with my friends and family.”

Spamalot approaches and departs from the film’s plot in a way that Turner believes is necessary for the adaptation to the stage.

“As you know, the musical is a huge hit, and I think one of the reasons it is, is because it appeals to people who go expecting to see the movie and to people who have huge trepidation about going to see Monty Python,” Turner opined, noting that the beginning of the musical is very similar to the film, but it veers away later on.

“It has to have a different feel and a different ending,” he posits.

One of the things that drew him to the role is its versatility--he does a bit of everything along the course of his time on stage.

“My favorite part is my big number in Act Two, ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway,’ ” he said. “It is my favorite part because it is basically the realization of every indulgent childhood dream I ever had about being on stage, because it’s a big song and dance number, really it’s a patter song, the words come a mile a minute, everyone else is doing a wonderful dance.”

“It’s a great show-off number because I’m a musician, I play the piano, and halfway through the number a piano rolls onstage,” he remembers. “You get to do everything you ever wanted to do in the space of a four or five-minute song. I’ll never get tired of it.”

One aspect of the play that could have been trying for him as an actor is replacing a “big name” from the Broadway cast in the tour, but apparently there are few people who would really try to compare him to David Hyde Pierce.

“I haven’t encountered them, but there’s a word for them,” he laughs. “They’re ‘critics.’ ”

“Before we left for the road, we did a performance in the studio for the Broadway cast, and David Hyde Pierce could not be a more gracious guy,” Turner says. “When we opened in Boston, he sent me flowers and a nice note. He seems like just a complete regular guy.”

While Hyde Pierce’s television character of Niles Crane often left viewers confused about his sexual orientation (a very effete heterosexual man, for those keeping score), Turner is out, loud and proud, and he attributes his openness to having already fulfilled his dream.

“The problem you have is if you want to be a movie star, and I decided a long time ago I have no interest in being a movie star, and then everything else falls into place because you’re not managing a public persona and you’re not trying to craft an image,” he points out.

“The theater isn’t a stepping-stone for me, it’s a destination,” he says. “I was one of those kids who just really wanted to be an actor early on.”

“It’s such a boring story, really. But if I think about it, I think it’s about being in a place where you’re being observed, but you’re not trying to please, and yet you can say anything, you’re given the words to be articulate, you’re given the words to express your feelings,” he notes. “Being on stage is always having the words to express what’s human about you and being observed doing it is just icing on the cake, I guess.”

Monty Python’s Spamalot will be in Cleveland at Playhouse Square from October 3 to 15, then it heads to Cincinnati for a run at the Aronoff Center from October 17 to 29. For Cleveland tickets, call 216-2416000 or go online to www.playhousesquare.org. For Cincinnati tickets, call 513-6212787 or go to www.cincinnatiarts.org.

 

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