It's good to be king, whatever it pays. Or so Mel Brooks told us long ago. But is it true? We put the question to Broadway star Gary Beach, who this week takes the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall as King Arthur in Monty Python's Spamalot. • "Of course," Beach said from his hotel in Fort Myers, where he was rehearsing the musical comedy before debuting in the role in Miami. "That's what Max Bialystock says, too."
Beach should know. He took home a Tony in 2001, as well as the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, for his portrayal of Roger DeBris, the gay stage director hired by Max to shepherd Springtime for Hitler into opening night oblivion in Brooks' phenom The Producers, a role Beach reprised in the 2005 movie.
Beach was feeling optimistic and energized when we spoke, eager to go on as King Arthur and even looking forward to the demanding six-month road trip he has signed on for with the touring company.
"That's really the biggest challenge in playing a role on tour," he said, "all the stuff you accumulate and what to do with it when you're not there. When you leave, the world doesn't just stop.
"I haven't toured in 20 years," he said, "and the last time I didn't have stuff."
Except the stuff that dreams are made of, of course. On that tour two decades ago he shared a stage with Mary Martin and Carol Channing in the aptly named Legends, a traveling show that played St. Petersburg.
On the road, Beach won't be a passenger in some luxe touring coach. He'll be at the wheel of an SUV.
"We'll be driving from town to town, a week in each city, except for a month in Vancouver in July, which I'm really looking forward to. July is the payoff for all the rain out there," he said.
Beach is looking forward, too, to seeing how the towns and cities the company plays have changed. He already knows St. Petersburg has changed dramatically since that long ago stop at the Bayfront Center, having been recently in town, and he's no stranger to Clearwater, where he has relatives, but he's expecting interesting surprises along the miles between here and Canada's west coast.
Still, isn't the prospect of half a year on the move a little daunting?
"I can't wait," he said. "We have a great cast and audiences really love this play. Sometimes they'll hear the coconut shells (mimicking hoofbeats) offstage and they'll start to applaud because they love what's coming."
I accused him of having already fallen under the play's screwball spell and seeing only The Bright Side Of Life, as a big song and dance number with all the Knights of the Round Table has it.
"Sure, why not? Except King Arthur is usually singing about the bright side of death," Beach observed.
That's a memorable scene, but it's not Beach's favorite. That comes at the end of Act II when Arthur sings his I'm All Alone lament, despite the constant presence of Patsy, the king's overburdened, much abused servant and chief coconut shell clip-clopper.
"I mean, there I am, crying about being all alone, self absorbed," Beach said, "and all the time Patsy's right there and he's the one carrying Arthur's burden. It's absurd. I love it."
John Bancroft is a freelance writer who lives in Bradenton.