Q&A with SPAMALOT's Michael J Berry
Spamalot, the hit Broadway show that's been captivating audiences around the country, was back in Omaha this past weekend to delight the Orpheum audiences with its award winning comedy and lively musical numbers. BWW in Omaha columnist Analisa Swerczek had a chance to sit down with one of the shows main actors, Michael J Berry, who plays Patsy on the Spamalot National Tour 2011, and ask him a little about himself, as well as about this wonderful show.
Hi Michael! Thank you so much for taking time to speak with BWW in Omaha.
No problem. Thank you!
Let's start at the beginning of your career. How did you come to be a performer? Was it something you wanted from an early age?
Definitely it was something I knew I wanted to do from a very early age. I remember my mom took me to see Beauty and the Beast in Toronto when I was six, and I remember when I came out of that show I said, "I want to do that one day." The next year my mom let me audition for a community theatre production of The King and I in Syracuse, New York (where I'm from), and I was cast as the little prince who looks up Mrs. Anna's dress. That part got a big laugh every night and I thought that was just the greatest feeling in the world. I've been interested in doing theatre ever since. I love it.
While continuing to pursue your career performing, did you receive any specialized training in school or privately?
I did. I went to Boston University and they have a Bachelor of Fine Arts program, and I was an acting major and a voice minor. My junior year they sent all the actors to London to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), and we spent a semester studying Shakespeare and classical acting. It was a great 4 month training intensive.
I hear that Spamalot is your first musical in almost two years. Can you tell me a little bit about how this audition process was for you?
I had just moved out to Los Angeles and Spamalot was the first audition I went to. I went to an open call in LA, and I was lucky enough to be called back in by the casting director and was asked to read for Patsy and to sing Always Look on the Bright Side. Since I'm a huge Monty Python fan, I already knew the song, which was great. And then I didn't hear anything for a long time and I just assumed that I didn't get it. I think my open call was sometime in December, and I didn't hear anything until March. It was completely out of the blue that I was asked to attend final callbacks and sing and read again. A couple weeks later I was offered the part of Patsy. I was over the moon - it was a wonderful surprise.
Who is Patsy in Spamalot and how does he fit into this story?
Patsy is pretty much King Arthur's right hand man. He is King Arthur's coconut man, since none of the knights in Spamalot actually ride horses. He carries all of King Arthur's baggage everywhere they go. This show is about King Arthur's journey and Patsy is always there with him as his constant companion to give Arthur constant support through out the entire journey. He has Arthur's back, which is a nice role to play.
You mentioned before what a big fan you are of Monty Python. How does Spamalot stand up next to the movies and tv shows that so many people have come to love over the years? Does it stay true to those series and their audiences?
I think it stays very true to the style. The creative team incorporated most of the most famous parts of the movie as well as the tv show. I think for serious Monty Python fans it will most certainly not let them down. And, if anything, the new parts that have been added to the musical are great surprises for those fans. We've had very wonderful direction, and I think that our cast has been really great about not necessarily imitating what characters did in the film, but certainly respecting and honoring those performances while bringing our own viewpoints to the story. We stay true to their style and execution.
Do you think that audience members have to be fans of the Monty Python series/films to appreciate this musical? Or have the audiences you've encountered so far been pretty receptive?
Our audiences are spectacular. It's been a nice mix of Monty Python fans and people who are new to the show. I think the humor is still so hilarious that it can hold its own with all audiences today. The jokes are still just as fresh as they originally were. Even if you're not familiar with Monty Python, the humor has such a wide range in the musical ranging from really intelligent jokes to farting. No matter what your style of humor is, you're going to find something hilarious in this. I still have to keep myself from smiling or laughing at a joke while I'm on stage. Plus, it's a really funny show on top of being a beautiful story. Beneath the humor there's this wonderful story simply about this man who is sent on a journey. There really is something for everyone, which is really exciting for us.
Spamalot seems like a blast to be a part of. Since starting the tour about a month ago, how do you and the rest of the cast keep the story and jokes fresh every night?
We've been on the road for just about a month now and I still find the show just as exciting and fun as it was when we started. Time has just flown by. In terms of keeping it fresh, the audience plays a big part. Really, every audience is different. Jokes can get huge laughs in one city but no laughs in another city. You never quite know how they will respond or what they will respond to. Cast members have been known to accidentally say lines slightly differently than other performances, and that keeps everyone thinking. It's going to be a slightly different show every night, and that's the joy of live theatre. It's not difficult keeping it fresh. Also, I know the movie and show backwards and forwards, and I still find this show hilarious.
What do you think it is about Spamalot that attracts the audience to this musical?
I think right now is a wonderful time for this show to be on the road touring the country. There's so much going on right now such as our government issues and hard economic times, and sometimes it feels like we're constantly getting bad news about the terrible things happening all over. One thing this show gives people is a wonderful sort of escape for two hours. They go into this magical world of King Arthur - to a time and place where things seem simpler. And while things are very serious for the characters in Spamalot, they are hilarious to the audiences. It's rare that you find such a smart show that is also so hilarious and so catchy. It has a little bit of everything, both emotional and goofy. It's such a wonderful evening of theatre --- a beautiful escape.