Nik Walker and the 'Spamalot' cast bring their real-life friendship to the Round Table
The first Broadway revival of the Tony Award-winning Monty Python musical features lead actors who are "all for one and one for all" on and off the stage.
Actor Nik Walker has one warning to audiences seeing Spamalot: "Get ready for madness."
That should be no surprise to those familiar with the show or its source material, the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The story is unabashedly bonkers, spoofing Arthurian legends and, in the case of Spamalot, musicals themselves.
But to say the script is funny doesn't even scratch the surface of this Round Table. This production, Spamalot's first Broadway revival that premiered in D.C., has a cast that goes way back, if not quite to Arthurian times. Walker plays Round Table knight Sir Galahad alongside James Monroe Iglehart, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Taran Killam, Michael Urie, Ethan Slater, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Smagula.
"We were all friends beforehand," Walker said. "It's like recess, being paid to just be an idiot with your friends [...] I'm truly waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Walker's description calls to mind Monty Python itself, whose members were all friends and castmates in comedy productions before forming the famous group, making Walker and co. the perfect assemblage to take the reins.
"It's truly like creating a comedy troupe, and we all are learning how to pass the ball to each other," Walker agreed. He discussed his history with the musical, the cast, and the Pythons' comedy, along with what makes this revival fresh from the Tony-winning original production.
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How did you get the part of Galahad?
When the press release came out that said James and Alex and Leslie and Rob were doing [Spamalot], I texted all four of them like, "Guys, this is A: ridiculous that you're all doing this. B: I will be there opening night, front row." And Alex texted me back, "Why aren't you in this?" The next day I got a call from [director] Josh Rhodes. The whole thing started with friendship.
Can you talk more about the friendship among the cast?
I'm doing the show with four of my big brothers in this industry, people who I wouldn't have a career without. It's like going to summer camp with your friends.
Taran and I did Hamilton together. He is also my Star Wars buddy. We go to Disneyland together, and we went to the Star Wars galactic starcruiser together. He is one of the most playful, inventive people that I know — and also just a big Monty Python nerd.
What's it like to play a comic role after making your career out of dramatic, historical roles, like Aaron Burr in Hamilton?
I have absolutely made my bones in this industry playing serious roles, but I'm also the guy that has the trunk of Nerf guns in his dressing room and will fire them at my castmates when they come in. The backstage energy has not matched the onstage energy until this play. My manager said to me, "I finally just get to see you do what you do."
But I want to be clear: I am very much the neophyte, and I'm coming here like, "Okay, let me just take these notes and learn." I'm surrounded by Broadway comedy legends.
Speaking of comedy legends, have you heard from the original cast?
When I knew that we were coming to New York, I made a list of every successful comedian I knew, and I cold-called them to ask them about comedy. I took Christopher Sieber [the original Galahad] for coffee. [Original cast member] Steve Rosen and I go back to the Peter and the Starcatcher days, and when I got the offer to come to Broadway, I was doing a play of his out in San Diego, so we got dinner.
There's no way to do this and not pay respect to the people that came before. This thing is them, just like [it's] the Pythons. You know what the best metaphor for this is? There's a large wooden rabbit that we bring on stage — basically a Trojan horse, but it's a rabbit. Every cast member that's ever used that rabbit has signed it: Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, Chris Sieber, Michael McGraw. It's like passing the torch, except we're passing a rabbit.
Has this production of Spamalot changed from D.C. to New York?
Josh runs rehearsals like a writers' room. At least for the eight principals, most of our rehearsals are us pitching him ideas — not necessarily about changing lines, but changing deliveries, changing beats. Because of that, we have really deepened a lot of the comedy.
What we're trying to create is organized anarchy: something that appears like it's nuts, but we know exactly what the tempo is. Finding that has been such a joyous process, especially because we have new people who didn't do this in D.C. but are coming in with their own brilliance.
What has changed between this production and the original?
Me and James are in it. Not that that wouldn't have happened in 2005, but you have two people of color in your principal cast. Galahad is coming in as a Black man. I have dreads. We're not ignoring that.
I had this teacher who always talked about how good art is just about how specific you can get: The more specific something is, the more universal it becomes. Monty Python did such an amazing job of making these jokes so specific that we've found our way in as people of color without changing a word, just because we're bringing our life experience.
When we did the show in D.C., my mom came to see it. My mom's from Little Rock, grew up in the Bible Belt South. And she was dying laughing. She said to me: "I didn't think we were allowed to laugh at this. I didn't think this humor was for us." Of course it is! Funny is funny. Our mere presence in this thing [means] there's space for us, and we’re inviting more people in.
On the flip side, what about Spamalot is timeless?
Anytime anybody takes themselves too seriously in the Monty Python world, the rug is about to be pulled out from under them. [The Pythons] love to question authority. Nobody ever dares to lovingly make a space where you can investigate why life is the way it is.
The very first thing that happens in our play is that King Arthur rides on with Patsy playing coconuts. He fully expects everyone else around him to be like, "Oh, this is completely fine because I'm King Arthur, and this is the way the story goes." And then Michael Urie's character, the first thing he says is, "Are you using coconuts?"
The winners of the story of our show are the people who learn how to play. Monty Python comedy, to me, is all about getting us down to the bare minimum: We're all human, and we're all gonna die someday. That's really all that matters, and what a beautiful sentiment.
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This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Top image credit: Nik Walker. (Photo courtesy of production)
In-article image credit: Nik Walker and the cast of Spamalot in character. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)
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