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Young Artists Bring Monty Python to Life in Ft. Thomas

“If life seems jolly rotten,/There's something you've forgotten!/And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing…"

James Owens looks on the bright side of life – a prerequisite for anyone taking a role in The Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.) production of gleefully silly musical Monty Python’s Spamalot, playing weekends July 8 - 17 at Highlands High School.

Owens, who enters his senior year at Newport Central Catholic High School this fall, joins C.A.S.T. for the first time and plays King Arthur (of Round Table fame).

In this hit Broadway adaptation of film comedy classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Arthur sets off with loyal sidekick Patsy and a bevy of knights are in search of the Holy Grail. They’re detoured by adventures with the Lady of the Lake, a flatulent Frenchman, killer rabbits, Tim the Enchanter – and of course the Knights who say Ni.

Owens is a relative Python newbie – he first encountered the iconic British comedy troupe in 2012. “I was in my dad’s car waiting for him to pick up dinner and I saw a link to the famous Black Knight scene on Facebook.” Yup, he thought it was “very” silly. It stands as his favorite screwball bit in the musical.

Like Owens, Lady of the Lake Caroline Lembright lives in Fort Thomas. The new Highlands High graduate will attend the University of Cincinnati to study nursing. 

This is her third summer show with C.A.S.T., and “every year is an incredible experience. I did theatre all four years of high school, so this program is a great way to share theatre with new people from outside our community at Highlands.”

She’s loving playing the lake lady. “She’s a classic diva -- she is loud, glamorous, and not satisfied until all eyes are on her. I think she's intelligent and witty in a way that some characters do not see.

“Like the rest of the cast, the Lady of the Lake has a personal grail that she searches for and ultimately finds. Her motivation goes beyond the surface level of an over-the-top, brassy diva, and extends to her need to be loved unconditionally and to help others along the way (and maybe get some solo time onstage as well!).”

Without giving details, Lembright’s favorite bit has her character acting out her master plan. “She will not be stopped. She has a great, and not always inconspicuous, way of planting her ideas in the minds of others so they can think it was their idea and she still gets her way.”

C.A.S.T. was started with the idea of giving high school students a different avenue to be involved in a theatrical production, says of Fort Thomas Independent Schools’ theatre instructor Jason Burgess.

The video trailer for Spamalot

“The ultimate goal is to open the doors of collaboration to students from different high schools in the Greater Cincinnati Area to create and produce a show together and to establish new relationships and create new friendships.”

The Spamalot cast includes students from Anderson, Turpin, Newport Central Catholic, Cincinnati Country Day, Seven Hills, Highlands, and Scott High Schools, and more, under the direction of Fort Thomas Independent Schools’ theatre instructor Jason Burgess.

Two Highlands grads are assistant directing this year. Brady Fox, now a student at Wittenberg University and Kay Vermeil, attending University of Southern California. They are both directing scenes and producing the playbill and marketing.

Vermeil story-boarded and filmed the show’s trailer and is creating Spamalot’s many projections, “teaching myself as I go.”

That on-screen bouncing ball the audience follows as everybody sings along to “Look on the Bright Side of Life”? That’s Vermeil’s work.

“I like bringing grads to intern because they get to see the other side of the process from when they were high school students,” Burgess explains.

“They get to see how much work goes into putting on the show from the production side. Since they have just finished their freshman year of college, they have potentially dabbled in a few things but really haven’t had a serious taste of much yet.

“This is a great way for them to get a serious taste. And they are invested because they have been a part of the program so they want to see it succeed.”

While you’re giggling through the lyrics, Lembright says, there’s a lot going on beneath the comedy. “There’s so much social commentary and truth hidden away within it, in that song especially.”

She thinks it has a lot to do with a life in the theatre, too. “It's easy to be down and upset when things aren't going according to plan, but a positive attitude can turn around even the darkest of situations.”

Spamalot, July 8-17. Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre (C.A.S.T.), Highlands High School Performing Arts Center, 2400 Memorial Pkwy., Fort Thomas. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $12, purchase tickets in advance online at www.castnky.com. Remaining unreserved tickets may be purchased at the door one hour prior to each show.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts