It’s not easy to name a show that has pervaded pop culture more thoroughly than Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” along with the movie from which it was “lovingly ripped off,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
The late, great “Seinfeld” certainly qualifies.
Now, both of these pop-culture influences come together in Spokane, in the person of John O’Hurley, also known as J. Peterman on “Seinfeld.”
He plays King Arthur in the tour of “Spamalot,” which arrives at the INB Performing Arts Center for eight shows beginning Tuesday.
In laughs per minute, O’Hurley says “Spamalot” is the hands-down winner.
“I say, unequivocally, that ‘Spamalot’ is the funniest thing I’ve ever done, and I say that in full knowledge of the fact that I was on ‘Seinfeld,’ ” said O’Hurley, by phone from the road. “People laugh from the moment the conductor drops his baton, and they don’t stop laughing until the curtain call.”
O’Hurley calls it “one of the great experiences I’ve had in the theater.” And if audience members detect a familiar note of Peterman-style bombast in his performance, that’s intentional.
“I like to play the king with a J. Peterman kind of feel: the sense that everything is an adventure and you have to be constantly self-justifying,” said O’Hurley. “I think King Arthur and J. Peterman are basically cut from the same cloth, just 1,200 years apart.”
An incisive intellect is not exactly the hallmark of either character.
“The king has always got to remind everybody that, ‘By the way, I’m the king,’ ” said O’Hurley. “He’s not necessarily the brightest one out there. He just looks best in the outfit.”
He called Arthur “a lunatic adventurer, traipsing across a Hampshire field, fooled by a clopping set of coconuts.”
O’Hurley certainly can play against the J. Peterman type. In fact, his most recent Broadway role was Billy Flynn, the lawyer in “Chicago.”
“He’s the exact antithesis of King Arthur,” said O’Hurley. “He’s self-knowing, he’s unapologetic, brash and narcissistic.”
O’Hurley has a vast amount of theatrical experience, which might surprise those who know him only from “Seinfeld” or from hosting the game show “Family Feud.”
He began as an opera singer, a lyric baritone (which helps explains that great Peterman voice). He soon made the transition to musical comedy and became an established musical performer even before he became a well-known soap opera star in the 1980s.
He landed the role of King Arthur in “Spamalot” for two years in its Las Vegas venue, and now he’s more than happy to play the national tour.
“I have the luxury of having a great show in ‘Family Feud’ which provides me the time and the means to take half the year and do what I want to do,” said O’Hurley. “When I finish ‘Family Feud’ in late fall, I’m free for the rest of the year until July.”
He calls “Spamalot” one of “the great experiences I’ve had in theater,” mainly because it is such a raucous crowd pleaser. One of the only problems with the show, he said, is that people laugh so long, they often miss the next joke.
“That’s why so many people return,” he said.
“Spamalot” has a book by original Python member Eric Idle, based on the movie’s original script. Yes, you’ll see the knights who say “Ni.” You’ll see knights galloping around the stage to the clip-clop of coconuts. You’ll see a killer rabbit, a flatulent Frenchman and a limbless knight.
All that, and singin’ and dancin’ as well.
By the way, O’Hurley demonstrates one other skill in “Spamalot”: the dance skills which made him a “Dancing With the Stars” champion.
“That’s a talent I didn’t know I had,” he said. “That surprised nobody more than me. I trained classically as a singer and classically as an actor. The one thing I forgot to do was dance.”
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