Spamalot cast from left: RJ Liebelt (Sir Galahad), Rick Smith (Concorde), Jax Dolman (Sir Robin), Craig Howard (King Arthur), Karen Bliss (The Lady of the Lake), Brian Martin (Sir Lancelot), Paul Rossetti (Sir Bevedere) and Peter Byrnes (Patsy). (Camillia Courts Photography)

Monty Python’s Spamalot set for Vernon stage

Big Apple Productions raises silliness to an art form

Rude Frenchmen, cancan dancers, the Lady of the Lake and her Laker Girls, killer rabbits, catapulting cows, and the somewhat odd Knights who say “ni” are just part of the adventures and dangers awaiting King Arthur and his knights of the very, very, very round table in their quest for the holy grail.

Lovingly ripped off from the motion picture, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is the fresh Broadway hit and irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend. It was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning three, including Best New Musical for 2005. During its initial run, it was seen by more than two million people.

“Whether you’re a Python fan or not, this show is guaranteed to have you howling with laughter and rolling in the aisles. The humour is universal,” said Melina Schein, founder and artistic director of Big Apple Productions.

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Big Apple Productions is celebrating its 9th anniversary of providing the North Okanagan with the highest caliber live musical theatre productions. Schein, who has also been running Valley Vocal Arts since 1996 (a vocal performance training program for aspiring singers of all ages), is a Juilliard-trained professional opera singer from New York City. She has been living in Vernon for the past two decades, and has built a life and career around showcasing local talent and giving Vernon audiences a taste of Broadway.

“I grew up on the stage, and was lucky enough to go to Broadway shows and operas since before I could even talk. When I moved here, I found a niche. Our community was (and is) bursting with talent, and I wanted to create opportunities for performers, while showing audiences what great theatre is all about. I wanted to raise the bar on “community theatre,” and I daresay we have,” said Schein. has produced and directed renowned audience-favourite shows since 2010, including Les Miserables, The Producers, Fiddler on the Roof, The Rocky Horror Show, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Sound of Music and many others. Working with a long-time core group of cast and crew, Schein is always attracting new talent to the company. “The majority of my cast and crew members have been with me for ten years or more. But it is always a joy to discover new talent and to give them a venue in which to showcase what they can do.”

Schein’s mandate hasn’t wavered in a decade. She endeavours to engage, inspire, entertain and challenge audiences with theatrical productions that range from the classics to new works; train and support the next generation of theatre artists and celebrate the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity. She also abides by a strict policy of live music, never canned or recorded tracks. “I am passionate about creating paid work for professional local musicians,” said Schein. “From small chamber ensembles to rock bands to a full symphony orchestra, I believe that singers should always be accompanied by live musicians. That’s part of the magic of musicals. Otherwise, it’s karaoke,” said Schein.

See: Adding a Manhattan flair to the Okanagan

Big Apple’s 15th major production, Monty Python’s Spamalot, will make its debut at The Powerhouse Theatre Thursday, May 30. It runs until June 8 with eight performances at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets are available through the TicketSeller Box Office online at www.ticketseller.ca, by phone at 250-549-SHOW or in person. “We originally had another show on the docket for this spring, but there was a licensing conflict with a children’s music program in town, which was also granted the same show rights. I decided we would let ours go, give them their spotlight and bring Monty Python to Vernon instead. It has turned out to be the best decision, as our current cast for this show is unsurpassed and the musical itself is sheer brilliance,” said Schein.

This is Schein’s largest assembled team, with a cast and crew comprised of 70 people. “It is always astounding to me how our cast and crew rally together to form a supportive, hard-working family unit in such a short time,” said Schein. This is also a record year for local sponsors teaming up with Big Apple Productions. “I’m overwhelmed by the growing community support for our shows. For the first time, I now have businesses approaching ME, asking what our next show is and how they can get involved,” said Schein of her current twenty show sponsors.

Directed by Schein’s long-time friend and colleague, Neal Facey (Big Apple’s Rocky Horror Show director for five seasons), and choreographed by Lucy Hazelwood (founder of The Army of Sass), Schein is thrilled with the artistic team. “Working with Neal is always a highlight of my life and career. We make a terrific team. And the discovery of Lucy has been one of the best things to happen to Big Apple. She has pushed our cast to new heights, demanding star-quality excellence and some tough choreography. It’s elevated us,” said Schein. “The opportunity to work again with Big Apple Productions and Melina, as well as Lucy and the stage team, is so fulfilling to me as a director. This show is funnier than I thought it would be when I first read it,” said Facey.

Big Apple Productions welcomes back to the cast many familiar faces and audience favourites, including Craig Howard as King Arthur of Camelot. “It is so fun to be in one of the most quotable shows of all time. It’s the kind of show where we watch the same scene a dozen times in rehearsal and still can’t help laughing. My role, King Arthur, gets to be a little bit of normalcy in the midst of the chaos all around him,” said Howard.

In the role of Sir Lancelot, the Homicidally Brave, is radio announcer and local celebrity Brian Martin. “This show is the ultimate in escapism, and yet the music is incredible and the cast is amazing. I love playing these roles because I get to really diversify, try out accents and be over-the-top silly,” said Martin.

See: Morning shakeup at Vernon radio stations

Stepping into the only female lead role in Spamalot is 10-year Big Apple veteran, Karen Bliss. “Multiple times in rehearsal, I have laughed so hard, I’ve cried! I had no idea that Monty Python was funnier in musical format. I’ve always been a Python fan but you don’t need to be to love this show. The Lady of the Lake is a challenging role but the most fun I’ve ever had. And while I love playing this character, part of me just wants to sit in the audience and watch my hilarious and talented castmates,” says Bliss.

Audiences will also be delighted by the antics of the Knights and Steeds of Camelot including Jax Dolman, Paul Rossetti, RJ Liebelt, Peter Byrnes and Rick Smith, as well as the dazzling Laker Girls and other side-splitting characters.

The design team features Scenic Designer Craig Howard, Scenic Painters Michelle Loughery and Raine Simon, Costume Designers Kayleigh Mace and Jax Dolman, Lighting Designer Lawrence Bird, Sound Designer Eric Pells, Props Designers Debra Bob, Andy Doyle and Jean Blackwell, and Stage Manager Belinda Baycroft. “The costumes, the sets, the props – all scream Big Broadway Musical!” said Schein. “I really think we’ve outdone ourselves with this production in that every aspect is the absolute height of professionalism, creativity and camaraderie. I’m so very proud to open the curtain on Spamalot, and I defy anyone to go and not have the most fun evening!”

Fans can follow Big Apple Productions and the cast of Spamalot on Facebook and Instagram at @bigappleproductionsvernon, and at www.melinaschein.com.

Disclaimer: Spamalot pokes fun at almost everyone and everything, even Broadway musicals. It is most appropriate for children 12 and older who can appreciate the unique Pythonesque sense of humor that –without apology – can appear cheeky, impertinent, irreverent, disrespectful, and sometimes just plain rude…but to the sophisticated and discerning eye, it is silliness raised to an art form and all good fun. But, please, if you are easily offended, take King Arthur’s advice and “Run away!”


@VernonNews
entertainment@vernonmorningstar.com

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