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The Broadway favorite follows up Beetlejuice with another not dead yet musical comedy
Even with eight Broadway productions under her powerhouse belt and many more shows beyond, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer has never thought of herself as a leading lady—and certainly not the leading Lady of the Lake in Spamalot. But she's cutting quite a figure and riffing to the rafters in the first-ever Broadway revival of the Monty Python musical comedy, currently running at the St. James Theatre.
"You grow up wanting to do certain roles because the performers who do them look sort of like you, and all the Ladies of the Lake were very tall!" Kritzer says with a laugh. Sara Ramirez, whom Kritzer saw in her 2005 Tony Award-winning turn in the original Broadway production, is 5-foot-9. Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham, who received an Olivier nomination in the part on the West End, is 5-foot-11. Kritzer is 5-foot-3. Hey, that's what five-inch heels are for. "They are beautiful, but I can't wear them every second," she says. "We do a lot of shoe changes. I have a few pairs of slippers backstage."
Inspired by the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot is a delightfully goofy spoof of King Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail, as well as a loving send-up of Broadway. Monty Python alum Eric Idle penned the book and cowrote the songs with John Du Prez. While many musical comedies peddle a message with their amusements, Spamalot has only one goal: to entertain. Given the world is currently a horror show, Kritzer is thankful for that. "It's just pure fun and silliness and heart," she says. "And that's what we need right now. I certainly do. I love the fact that I've been given this gift of two and a half hours of laughter to give away to other people."
This production, which is directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, originated at The Kennedy Center in DC earlier this year, where it received ecstatic reviews that helped spur a Broadway transfer. Like Kritzer, most of the cast has come along for the rip-roaring ride, including James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, Michael Urie as Sir Robin and Nik Walker as Sir Galahad with new additions Ethan Slater and Taran Killam.
Since Monty Python was an all-male comedy troupe, it's no surprise that Spamalot, like the movie it's based on, is dude-centric. In fact, the character of the Lady of the Lake was created for the musical, a kind of scene-stealing pop diva providing vocal pyrotechnics and off-the-cuff commentary. From the outset, Idle (who has yet to see this production) gave his blessing to the cast members to make it their own. Improvisation is encouraged and Kritzer takes full advantage, even incorporating joyous news into her patter. The other night when a tentative deal was reached to end the SAG-AFTRA strike, she announced it on stage to wild clapping and crowing.
Because of her role in the story, Kritzer is often on her own "track," which means she can ad-lib with abandon and not worry about throwing others off. "The Lady of the Lake comes and goes and comes and goes, and kind of doesn't have full scenes until the end," she explains. "I like an air of spontaneity, of riding right on the edge of not really knowing what I'm going to do next but planning it just enough so that I feel safe. I'm in the pocket of what I need to do in the show, but that electricity is in the air. That's the ball that we pass to each other. We're all able to do our own little bits without overstaying our welcome. Otherwise, the show would be four hours long!
Her first act roof-raisers, "The Song That Goes Like This" and "Find Your Grail," are particularly delicious as she channels a succession of famous singers. "Vocally, I do improvisation things," she says. "I try to play with things continually, growing and refining, refining, refining. I'll try a bit of Celine and there's definitely a little Judy and Liza. It's an amalgam of different styles, sound tones and runs, a celebration of all these people. And I'm still figuring it out. I don't think it'll ever always be the same."
Spamalot came along at a time when Kritzer was planning to take a break. Since the spring of 2019, she had been starring as the hilariously high-strung life coach Delia in the musical Beetlejuice (with a two-year pandemic hiatus). Soon after that cult hit closed, she got the call about the Lady of the Lake. When she heard the cast list, she said yes. "I was like, this sounds so fun! And how can I say no to this group?"
While the Lady of the Lake wasn't on her bucket list (an oversight, she now realizes), Kritzer has several dream roles. Two are Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress, a part originated by her longtime idol Carol Burnett, whom she played in an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd—both characters Sutton Foster is taking on next year. Kritzer also expects to play Mama Rose in Gypsy at some point. But after a career spent mostly in musical comedies (Hairspray, The Robber Bridegroom, Legally Blonde, Something Rotten!, to name a handful), she's itching to do dramas.
"I would love to play the mother in Side Man," she says. "I would love for Warren Leight to revive that play, and to step into the shoes that Edie Falco created." She's also developing a piece based on the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, which she attended. "I was in the courtroom almost every day, so I'm writing a play based on my experience."
For now, she's putting most of her energy into Spamalot, produced by her old friend Jeffrey Finn, who gave Kritzer her very first contract job 21 years ago as Alice Ripley's standby in Tell Me on a Sunday at the Kennedy Center. Being in the show also makes her think of another longtime pal, her frequent costar Michael McGrath, who passed away suddenly and tragically in September.
"We did three shows together and he was the original Spamalot's Patsy," Kritzer says. "He was spontaneous and so funny. He's there with us every night in spirit. Whenever I'm improvising, I always ask myself, would Mike think this is funny? Yeah, he would."
Spamalot is also frequently available at our TKTS Booths.