Fort Worth — Casa Mañana Theatre concludes its 2015-'16 Broadway season with Monty Python’s Spamalot, playing June 4-12. Spamalot features a cast of Broadway veterans Jeff McCarthy as King Arthur, Julia Murney as The Lady of the Lake and John Scherer as Sir Robin, with a cast and ensemble filled with local talent, including James Chandler and Christopher J. Deaton, plus choreography by Dallas' Jeremy Dumont.
The award-winning for Best Musical is inspired by Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a cult film parody of the legend of King Arthur set in medieval England. The original 2004 production was co-created by Eric Idle, an original Monty Python member, and it won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Hunter Foster had never spent much time in Texas—certainly nowhere near Fort Worth. When he ran into a friend in North Carolina with Casa Mañana ties, the conversation turned to an upcoming production of Spamalot, and an opportunity presented itself for Foster. With a fondness for the show and a great working knowledge of it—he played King Arthur in a production in Rochester, N.Y.—he jumped at the chance to direct it for Casa.
Foster is the older brother of Tony-winning Broadway and TV star Sutton Foster, but he’s not living in his sister’s shadow by any means. Hunter Foster boasts an impressive résumé of his own. He starred as Seymour in the 2003 revival of Little Shop of Horrors, the show’s only Broadway production. Having been a cult hit off-Broadway, it was labeled a revival. He was nominated for Tony for that role. He also had a widely lauded turn as Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Urinetown (which also starred McCarthy, and, like Spamalot, parodies musicals within a larger narrative) and a few of his Broadway credits are The Producers, Million Dollar Quartet, Hands on a Hardbody and The Bridges of Madison County. He also serves as an Artistic Associate at Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Playhouse.
Foster turns his hand to directing one of his favorite plays now. A child of the 1980s, Foster grew up watching Star Wars and John Hughes films. But a childhood best friend turned him onto Monty Python, “I wasn’t a Monty Python ‘junkie’ like he was, but because of him I watched all the movies. It was a huge part of my childhood.”
We chatted with Foster about the challenges and benefits to directing Spamalot, and what makes that so fun for him.
TheaterJones: Do you have a favorite musical?
Hunter Foster: It has to be West Side Story. I’ve seen it 100 times, I’ve performed in it. It truly never gets old.
You’ve played some characters who are up against the world and in impossible situations. Are you an optimistic person or does that kind of darkness work for you?
I would say I’m pretty optimistic but satire comes very easily to me.
So Spamalot isn’t a challenge in that way?
This play is very satirical, but it isn’t negative. There’s so much joy in the play. In the same way there is joy in Little Shop, even though that ends tragically [laughing] and with everyone dying. There is hope in a way. That duality is very interesting to me.
What is the joy in Spamalot?
Well, it’s really two different plays going on. First you have a take on Monty Python, and that story and the satirical nature of it, and then you also have a play that’s lampooning musicals.
This play has had such a life of its own, separate from the original production, and even apart from the movies. How do you keep it interesting and new?
Well, some things have changed in the 10 years since it opened. We changed some of the wording, things like “the web.” I don’t think I’ve heard that internet called “the web” in years. There’s also a reference to Britney Spears, so we changed that to someone more current- though I won’t say what we changed it to. The thing about this play is that it’s about embracing what’s happening “now” so we made updates where they were necessary. In that way it really lends itself to whatever time it’s playing in.
Did you have a hand in casting it?
Yes! I have some really talented friends in New York that I brought in for the leads. I was really excited to see them in this show. But I have to say, I was really impressed with the local actors we cast in the ensemble. They have been so great to work with.