BWW Interviews: Emma Ferrante Talks SPAMALOT at The LOT, Physical Humour, and Finding Her Inner Diva
Based on the Monty Python film Monty Python and the Holy Grail is SPAMALOT, a hilarious musical that parodies the legend of King Arthur. While the two have their differences, both have one thing in common - outrageous loud-out-loud antics. Now, the Lower Ossington Theatre is staging it's own production of the hilarious, larger than life musical.
It's a big task to stage a show that starred Sara Ramirez, Christian Borle and Christopher Seiber amongst other notable performers in the original company. However, Emma Ferrante, the production's Lady of the Lake, assures us that the production will be full of hilarity and refreshingly different from the original show. Ferrante sat down with Broadway World to discuss the dynamics in the ensemble cast, the comedic nature of the show, and what it's like finding your footing in such an outrageous, laugh-out-loud show.
BWW: What was it like getting into character for this show?
FERRANTE: For me personally, Sara Ramirez is known for this role and I was scared shitless to take it on because I thought it was not my vocal type. I actually auditioned to be a knight in this show. I just wanted to put my face out there, and then they were like "Hey, come back for Lady of the Lake." I was like, are you kidding me? I don't know if I can! Finding that confident diva in me, that's been a lot of fun. I've been playing the comedic aspects and that's who I am. I like to be funny and have fun with people. This cast is the epitome of fooling around but in the most constructive of ways.
BWW: What has surprised you the most about the show and your role in it
FERRANTE: For me, the dance is surprising constantly. The chorographer, Michele Shuster, is amazing [and] the dancers are phenomenal. Every time they kick their face I get excited as a non-dancer (laughs). It's really tight and clean and I think it's going to be a huge spectacle because I'm laughing and in awe each time I see it. I never get bored of it.
For my character, developing all the riffs section [is] something I've never done before, improvised singing. It shocks me every time I do something that works.
BWW: How did you first hear about the role?
FERRANTE: I had just done SOUND OF MUSIC with the LOT just right before this [with] the exact same artistic team [as SPAMALOT] so that's how I heard about it. I came to audition and I really at that point didn't think there [were] any roles for me so I auditioned to be a knight and I sang a mans song acapella, and then they brought me in to sing for Lady of the Lake. I wasn't familiar with SPAMALOT because it wasn't something I thought was vocally accessible to be [but] boy has that changed, and its been very exciting.
BWW: What was your reaction when you got this role that you didn't plan on in the first place?
FERRANTE: I was having breakfast with my boyfriend and an old friend I hadn't seen in a long time. In my car I got the email and I think I swore and jumped around in my seat quite a bit and was like "no way, no way." It was a moment of fear and excitement, and then it [went] directly into watching every Monty Python movie I could that night and learn the material.
BWW: In terms of Monty Python and Sara Ramirez, was there anything you tried to take or interpret to better your performance?
FERRANTE: How serious they are about what they are doing. They don't show that they're being funny; to them this is serious in every moment. That's what I want to capture in the role; not laughing at myself but believing in everything I'm saying. Hopefully that will be funny to everybody.
BWW: You mentioned you've wrapped up THE SOUND OF MUSIC. What has the transition from THE SOUND OF MUSIC to SPAMALOT been like?
FERRANTE: I was playing Frau Schmidt the housekeeper and a nun in THE SOUND OF MUSIC so this is quite a dramatic shift. For me it was going right to the source material and understanding what I was working with. It was easy to make the shift for me because I was excited to embark on a new project because I'd been working on the SOUND OF MUSIC for a few months and it was time to say goodbye and move on to something new. As soon as I met the cast on the first read through everyone had their accents nailed on the first day and being in that room with those people made me launch right into the new project without any questions.
BWW: SPAMALOT is a comedy! It's funny and quirky but there must be some challenges. Have their been any struggles with things like line delivery and nailing the comedic aspect?
FERRANTE: What's hard is not breaking because people try new things all the time. This cast is hysterical so they're not afraid to get in your personal space and do something that [can] make you burst out laughing, so that's been the biggest challenge. We had our fun but now, no matter what offer you're given from another actor, [you] take it and run with it. That's been the biggest challenge, not being thrown off by the hilarity of your cast mates.
BWW: So you've done a couple shows with the LOT now, so what appeals to you about the LOT and what do you think appeals to audiences?
FERRANTE: There's a lot of work available for non-union actors in Toronto but not all of it can help you stay on your feet financially and the LOT helps with that. [It's] nice to be rewarded for the work your doing. I view the LOT as a training ground and a place to continue my training and to be exposed to roles such as the Lady in the Lake that I'd never thought I'd be able to play. I get to use this as an opportunity to stretch myself and continue to grow. All these actors are highly talented and I think that's the draw for [the] audience to the LOT, they get to see emerging actors right in their prime, right when they're out of school. This is a place where we get to feel at home for a while.
BWW: The LOT is a smaller, extremely intimate setting. How do you think the comedic aspect will play out, with the audience having that hilarity right in front of them?
FERRANTE I think the audience may feel taken aback at first at how close and into their space we are, but I think if we're able to win them over then it's going to be a really fun night for everyone. There [are] a lot of moments that we break the fourth wall and so they get to be a part of the show too, which is great.
BWW: What is your favourite song in the show and favourite song to perform?
FERRANTE: So many! I like "Lancelot" a lot, it's so upbeat and you feel like you're at a club and you just want to get up and dance with all these boys. My favorite to perform in the show is "Knights of the Round Table," I get to do a big scat section in there. I've had a lot of fun creating something you won't be expecting if you've heard the recording.
BWW: What has been the most vocally challenging to perform?
FERRANTE: "Find Your Grail," a hundred per cent. It's a moment where the character gets to really show off her vocal strength. For me, that was the one I was least confident with, [but] it's the one I get most excited to sing now because I see the growth that I've had since the beginning to now.
BWW: If you could play any other character in the show, who would it be?
FERRANTE: Sir Robin for sure, he's the funniest. He's the knight who poops his pants all the time. It's hilarity physical comedy, which is my favourite thing to do.
BWW: Are there any particular dream roles you would love to play at some point
FERRANTE: Madame Thénardier IN LES MISRABLES [and] I'd love to play the Drowsy Chaperone in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. What's interesting is I love musical theatre, I studied it for three years but before that I [did a] theatre degree, so musical theatre is still really new to me. Discovering all these shows is really exciting to do in your mid-twenties. The Bakers Wife in INTO THE WOODS is another one that I'd really love to tackle because that was the first musical I was exposed to. I learned about Sondheim before I did any of the other composers so some of the mainstream stuff I may have never heard of, which is funny.
BWW: How did you get in musical theatre?
FERRANTE: I went to a private school most of my life so I was very academically inclined, but when I went into high school I was in the French immersion program. My friends were in the high school band and I had never played an instrument or read music. I decided to teach myself how to read sheet music and joined the band and through that ended up being in the musical. I promise you, when I first started singing, if you played a note on the piano I couldn't sing it back to you. I was tone deaf. It was pretty rough. Once I started learning about different musicals, I had a natural inclination towards the acting side and the storytelling and the dissecting the text - that's what I find fun. I started pouring myself into it, [and] taught myself how to sing. In university I took a theatre degree and realized I was able to sing at that point [so] I went to musical theater school and improved my singing training so now I'm able to play a role like Lady of the Lake.
BWW: What are some of the obstacles you overcame getting into your character and what are things that surprised you about you and the character?
FERRANTE: What I had to overcome was, at some point, to stop listening to the soundtrack and to [do] my own thing. Sara Ramirez can sing every note in the universe and my range isn't that big. [I] create[d] a pattern that worked with my voice type, and concentrate[d] on the comedy aspect of it, not the vocal prowess. I'm doing my own thing with it, what I'm good at, and that's physical comedy. That's been my biggest challenge, feeling confident in that. With the help of my peers and the creative team, it helps me feel confident in the choices I'm making and scrap the ones that aren't working.
BWW: What kind of research did you do in regards to music stylings?
FERRANTE: In my research I looked up references, like [in the show] there are references to Cher. I did some listening and watching on YouTube [but] I'm not trying to capture what they are doing exactly, but the essence of hat they are doing and make it my own. I've been trying to catch up on my Britney spears trivia (laughs).
BWW: You said a lot of the role for you is about the comedy. Could you elaborate on how the character and actor dynamics add to the comedy?
FERRANTE: I think every person in the cast brings in a different strength whether it be accent work or physical comedy or dance. To see the comedy come out in so many different forms has allowed me to explore all of those forms in my role so I'm not just trying to vocally be comedic but I'm also embodying it and uses dance and mimicry and mocking. The diva's not really good... she thinks highly of herself but she's not very good. For me its fun to play that I think I'm amazing, but as an actor I get to do some of those most horrendous looking things. I get inspired by my cast mates, every day they are bringing new offers.
BWW: When you are working with people who you have worked with before, especially because the LOT has so much carry over cast, is there a sense of comfort?
FERRANTE: Carrying over with the same director, choreographer and musical director has been an interesting experience because they know what I did and are seeing what I'm doing so very differently. They know my vocal type and how to direct me in a precise and unique way because they know my strengths and weaknesses. In terms of the cast, [there was no carry over cast but] there are some cast members I went to school with - it's like to re-meet them. Even though we all knew each other from school we were in different years, I get to meet them in a new, exciting way and see things in their performance I didn't know they could do even though I've known them for three years. It's inspiring to me [because] I got to see their journey.
BWW: What can people expect from SPAMALOT and why should they come see the show?
FERRANTE: When Sir Robin poops his pants you may poop yours because you are going to laugh so hard. It's some of the best singing I've heard, best character work I've seen in a long time, the dancing's phenomenal and its going to be right in your face. It's going to be very exciting and overall I think we're going to have you guys laughing the entire time.
Photo: Seanna Kennedy
From This Author Brittany Goldfield Rodrigues