Arts & Culture » Stage

Of The Knights Who Say "Ni"

Christopher Gurr on all things Spamalot


When 40-year-old Christopher Gurr hits the Morrison Center with the North American touring company of Eric Idle's Spamalot—the musical production based on the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he may find he doesn't want to leave. Not because he doesn't love his job playing Sir Bedevere, Mrs. Galahad and Concorde. But because he'll easily find what he looks for in a city he's playing: a good cup of coffee, a good glass of Guinness and restaurants that serve late. BW caught up with Gurr in his hotel in Seattle just before the play's three-week run there.

Do you have an opening night ritual?

The opening night routine doesn't start until two hours before curtain when we show up for a sound check and you meet your dresser for the first time and show them how all the quick changes are going to go. More importantly, when you arrive in town, you find out who serves food after midnight, where you can do your laundry, and I find out who pours a good Guinness and who pours a good cup of coffee.

Tell me about your Spamalot characters.

I play Sir Bedevere, a pseudo-intellectual, Mrs. Galahad, a screaming Cockney peasant woman. She's my favorite. And Concorde who, depending on your point of view, is either a page or a horse. I take an arrow in the chest every night. It's one of my favorite things.

Does this gig feel like a culmination of what you've worked toward or just another step?

  • Courtesy Spamalot

In some ways, yes, and in some ways, absolutely not. In some ways, it feels like a huge left-hand turn for me. I've been mostly directing for the last 10 years as opposed to acting. I have always been what we in the profession call a LORT baby, LORT being the League of Region Theaters. I'm a regional theater person. I've never lived in New York. I've never waited tables and gone on [multiple] auditions. I haven't had a day job in 20 years. I've had a very good life in the theater, but a very low-profile one, working in small regional theaters all over the country, teaching, directing and acting. So to take a big commercial gig like this has been a new thing, which is kind of cool at 40.

Do you want to be in the director's role?

No. It's such a freaking relief not to have to be in charge.

How long does the tour run and will you stay the whole time?

I believe there are tour dates into '08, maybe '09. I'm on my third contract right now, which will take me to March 2. What happens is, about a month before it comes up, me, my agent and the producer decide whether they want to keep me and I want to keep them.

Have you met Eric Idle?

I have. He was around in rehearsal and previews and he's visited us in several cities. He's a fan of us just as much as we're a fan of his. I sometimes wonder if Eric can quite believe he's got a hit Broadway show going on, which is beautiful. How much better is that than him very much knowing. He's delightful to be around.

If you could choose another Spamalot role, is there someone you'd rather be?

Not rather. I'm a character actor; I always have been. I was born a character actor; not born a leading man; not born an ingenue. Even when I was 16, I was not an ingenue. I was a character actor waiting to ripen, as they say.

[But] any actor worth his salt stands in the wings going, "He's doing a lovely job, but boy I'd like to get my hands on that." And because the Python boys played so many different roles, you can easily see yourself slipping in and out of the roles.

Does this production stay close to the film?

To an extent. Act I, yes. Act II, no, because it's a musical comedy and we follow the rules of musical comedy. We're looking to wrap up an actual plot which the movie just barely hung on to. The movie ends with the police showing up to arrest the knights while they're having a fight which is kind of weird and strange. We don't end that way. We end with weddings and happy endings and a big finale.

How many songs do you sing throughout your performance?

I'm in several of the production numbers, but I don't have any of what we call the "heavy lifting" in terms of the singing. I'm definitely character boy. Not having to worry about your voice for a run is a very lovely thing.

Do you get home at regular intervals?

No. To get where I live—in the mountains of Kentucky [in Appalachia]—I have to fly to Nashville and then it's a three-hour drive. I saw a George Clooney interview one time where someone was teasing him about how much money he makes. He said something like, "I don't get paid to act. I'd do that for free. I'm getting paid to be away from my family." That's how I think about my paycheck every week. They're not paying me to do the thing I would do for free, which is put on a dress every night.

What else do you work on besides acting?

I compose. Often when I direct, I write the incidental music for those pieces. I teach. That's a huge thing for me. One of the last gigs I had was doing sabbatical replacement for one of my old professors. I taught Restoration acting, dialects and Shakespeare.

Is there someone in the company that makes you think, "I'm glad I took this gig for that reason alone?"

Several of those people. We travel with a company of 50 [people]: actors, some musicians and some crew. In every town we travel to, we hire another 50 so it takes about 100 people to make this show happen. In every single theater we've been in, I have a local dresser, someone I meet for the first time on opening night who helps me do all my quick changes. My point is, we're getting a very good report card as a company. We're a very happy company. I think it's probably the show we're doing. You know, it ain't Les Mis, where it lasts forever and people are dying. It's a comedy on stage and off stage, a very jovial atmosphere. I have collected lots of good friends on this tour. It's a super extended family.

Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 3, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; $47-$70. The Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Ln., 208-426-1609. For tickets, call 208-426-1110.