BY SANDY STAGGS
Dr. Kathleena L. Roark is new to Spartanburg, having moved here last summer family from Illinois, but she is already making headlines in the Spartanburg theatre community.
An adjunct professor at both Converse and Wofford College (where she directed Sarah Ruhl’s “In the Next Room (Or the Vibrator Play)” last November), Dr. Roark makes her big stage debut this weekend helming the musical farce “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Spartanburg Little Theatre.
Roark, who previously held a college professor post at a one-person theatre department in Illinois, relocated to Spartanburg last year with her husband, David Roark (who now teaches AP English at Spartanburg Day School and recently appeared in Valerie Barnet’s staging of “The Breakfast Club”), and their two children.
And while she has directed many college shows and some youth theatre, “Spamalot” is her most lavish production to date, and the Chapman theatre is the first theatre she has worked at with a fly system.
Based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the original 2005 Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, won three Tony Awards including Best Musical and starred Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce and Christian Borle.
And though she didn’t get an opportunity to see the original or touring production, Roark is enamored with the show’s music, all written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, except for “Knights of the Round Table,” “Brave Sir Robin” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” taken from the “Holy Grail” film and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” respectively.
Roark said she has watched YouTube clips from the original Broadway show for inspiration, “but we are not lavishly devoted to it.”
Roark also has the utmost praise and respect for her new SLT gang: “It’s been wonderful for me that there are responsible people in charge of everything and who really know what they are doing.”
As for her “hilarious” 20-member cast, Roark said “everyone has been so committed to this production in doing the work and showing up early. It’s been the best.”
And when asked about the most (unexpected) challenging part of this show, Roark didn’t skip a beat: “The costume changes are just crazy.”
“I chose to do the same multiple casting as they did in the Broadway version, and it’s so true to its Monty Python roots where they were always doing multiple parts,” she said. “Even the ensemble members have a lot of costume changes from one song to the next.”
“You see connections with the characters and it’s a pleasurable thing for the audience when they see the same actor come out in a different role,” she said.
The primary parts are embodied by SLT regulars Brandon Alan Gaunt (from “Ring of Fire” and “Beauty and the Beast) as Lancelot (and the Knight of Ni, the French Taunter and Tim the Enchanter); Ben Dawkins from “Avenue Q” as the Historian (narrator), Not Dead Fred, Prince Herbert, and the Lead Minstrel; and Janice Wilkins, who returns to SLT after a very long hiatus as The Lady of the Lake, the only female primary role.
And King Arthur is played by SLT newcomer Stan Peal, who patrons will recognize from his movie critic show “The Reel Guys” on The Carolinas CW.
“Spamalot” does have dialogue of course, but it is mostly a song-and-dance show with music direction by Karen Hampton and two choreographers on board: William Wilkins and Emily Patterson.
“What a wonderful thing to have two choreographers to split the load. They have been amazing,” she said.
“Spamalot” features the second castle this season at Chapman Cultural Center after the momentous production of “Beauty and the Beast” last September. And while the Prince’s stately home (designed by SLT Production Manager Will Luther) was a brooding and pristine fairy tale set, the Spamalot castle (designed by Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson) is different aesthetically, Roark said.
“It’s Medieval and non-realistic. We’re not trying to make people believe it’s a real castle. And it transforms into all sorts of things even Las Vegas,” she added.
And what can SLT audiences anticipate from “Spamalot”?
“They can expect coconuts and beautiful hilarious songs and they will leave with a giant smile of their face,” she said. “ ‘Spamalot’ is a great date night and the best $25 you can spend in Spartanburg.”
“Spamalot” runs May 5-14 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. with an additional 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, May 13, at Chapman Cultural Center, 200 E. St. John St. in Spartanburg. For tickets, call (864) 542-2787 or visit www.spartanburglittletheatre.com