As a sophomore in high school, Joey Fontana saw Monty Python's Spamalot at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, on the east side of the state. Now he’s part of the national tour, performing at Miller Auditorium this month.
“I remembered how much I loved it and how perfect I thought it would be for me … so I was dying to go and audition for it,” said Fontana, who auditioned during an open call in New York.
As an ensemble member, he’s in many of the show’s musical numbers, including his personal favorite, Act 1’s Laker Girls. In that number, he gets to briefly play a frog mascot, a full-circle moment for the Oakland University graduate who played a frog in his very first musical, Seussical the Musical, when he was eight.
Just as the frog in Spamalot harkens back to Fontana’s first show, there are plenty of references throughout the two-hour production for musical theater lovers to catch.
“There are so many,” Fontana said. “The first one that comes to my head is Act 2’s You Won’t Succeed on Broadway. We do a whole Fiddler on the Roof number. It’s just so fun.”
Fontana also enjoys the tap number Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, which might as well be an homage to Singin’ in the Rain. But his absolute favorite number of the entire musical is the Lady of the Lake’s The Song That Goes Like This.
“It’s basically a song that’s making fun of pop divas, pop culture, belt actresses and musical theater; it’s so funny,” he said. “Our Lady of the Lake is phenomenal and she does such a good job.”
Even though the show makes fun of those types of power ballads and Andrew Lloyd Webber-style musicals, Spamalot is just as much a big, showy musical theater production as one of Webber’s shows.
“It combines a very medieval, kind of chivalrous tone with a very modern, contemporary, funny, outrageous side to it, which makes it so funny because of the contrast between this seriousness and this playfulness,” he said.
The musical is also just plain funny. But it’s what you’d expect from a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, who also wrote the music with John Du Prez. Idle is well-known as the co-creator of Monty Python for TV, stage and five films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail, on which Spamalot is based.
If you’ve never seen the 1975 cult classic, here’s the rundown of its musical adaptation: King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table go on a quest to find the Holy Grail, during which time they cross killer rabbits, The Knights Who Say “Ni” and flying cows. Add some music and you have the musical.
For those who have seen the film and think a musical isn’t their thing, Fontana still encourages them to come see it.
“It is a lot like the movie, and it’s also just a very specific type of humor that the people who enjoy the movie will enjoy here,” he said.
Getting to make people laugh is one of the many reasons Fontana enjoys the show so much. It’s all he’s ever really wanted to do.
Underneath all the layers of humor, sarcasm and flesh wounds, there’s also a pretty important message throughout the 2005 Tony Award-winning musical, which can be found in one of its songs, Find Your Grail.
For Fontana, that number is the most important one in the show because it gives the audience hope. It tells everyone to go out and find what makes them happy, whether that be a person or something else, and to ultimately be themselves.
“I love singing that number because of how it makes me feel and I know how the audience will feel, especially because I remember listening to that and how special it was to me,” he said.
The musical also encourages guests to look on the bright side of life, even when it doesn’t seem like it's possible. Fontana said that’s a message everyone could use right about now, and the show will help.
“You can’t leave the show and not be happy,” he said.
Monty Python's Spamalot
Miller Auditorium, 1341 Theatre Dr., Kalamazoo
millerauditorium.com, (269) 387-2300