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Courting King Artful

July 5, 2007 By:
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It's good to be King Arthur (Jonathan Hadary).
Small world, isn't it? Within 17 years, Jonathan Hadary has gone from king of the squares in "Gypsy" to king of the roundtable in "Spamalot."

Indeed, from haimish Herbie to courtly King Arthur just proves how artful Hadary the heartfelt really is. Evidence is right there every night on stage at the Shubert on Broadway as Hadary hightails it to the hilarious clippity-clop hi-jinks of Monty Python's "Spamalot," where it's good to be king.

Make that it's great to be king.

What could be better, says one of theater's award-winning best, whose Arthur need not give his kingdom for a horse -- but a good pair of coconut shells? That's a different story.

And how much more wild and wonderfully different can you get than "Spamalot," the long-running Monty Python of a musical snake charmer that has Arthur go for the grail, even if he can't get the girl. "This is unlike anything I've ever done," says the much accomplished actor whose bionic bio attests to a killer rabbit of a resume, including film and TV.

King artful: Indeed, it is a résumé that runs with the best, spam filter well in place even before "Spamalot" came about and he became the punk'd poet of these idols of the king.

But then, Hadary's always dwarfed the competition, even when his career was starting out so snow white. Yes, he chuckles at his debut performance in fifth grade as one who whistled while he worked working the lines in the show "Snow White."

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off Hadary goes -- to found his own theater company while in high school. "And that company is still in business," he says of what is now the Wildwood Summer Theatre, "still run by kids."

"Each of us who started it had to put up $10 each, and we got it back" -- and with profits.

Prophetic instance of high times for Hadary ahead, as he later would earn a Tony Award nod for his role as Herbie in "Gypsy," as well as other accolades, including a Barrymore Award nomination for his part as a Yiddish-theater manager going up against a Boris Thomashefsky-type in "The Great Ostrovsky," staged here at the Prince Music Theater.

What he especially enjoys of those musical memories was "working on what would be the great Cy Coleman's last show."

But that Yiddish kite didn't soar like so many of his other projects. And when it comes to soaring, no one catapults a cow like "Spamalot."

"It's a peculiar animal," says Hadary with delight of the show (not the cow). "It crosses a lot of lines; it's like throwing a party" that you're a part of.

'Giddiness Quotient'
And the part suits Hadary to a kvell.

"There's a giddiness quotient," he muses of going giddy-up without a horse to hold him. It's also a musical that features the quintessential laker girl, not to mention the first and only extravaganza that takes place in a Fin alley: "Finland/Fisch Slapping Dance."

That'll get you awake and singing. But, then, Hadary has already done that to acclaim, being part of the Drama Desk Award-winning ensemble of "Awake and Sing!" last year on Broadway, in which his meek Myron was part of the beef that made the Berger family so relevant some 70 years after Clifford Odetts did the Depression proud on Broadway.

From that group theater to the group clanging their coconut shells at the Shubert Theatre is quite a trail traipsed.

"A year ago, being in 'Awake and Sing!' meant my crying on cue every night," recalls Hadary. "After it was over, I realized, 'I haven't cried in a month.' Now I laugh on cue every night."

Laden with happiness and tears ... such is the life of an actor Tevye would have claimed for one of his daughter's hands. On the one hand ... "I auditioned for 'Awake and Sing!' and 'Spamalot' in the same week."

On the other hand ... "I ended up working in both -- two more opposite projects I can't imagine," he says with an appreciative laugh.

"They were even in theaters on opposite sides of the same street," he says of the Bergers of the Bronx and the bravehearts of Britain.

For an actor whose role called for crying so much, Hadary originally was able to tear himself away from the play as a younger man.

"It left me unmoved when I was young," he says of "Sing." "When I came across it in college, I didn't care. I once turned down a production of it."

Alarm bells went off later, awakening him to the brilliance of the drama when it was revived last year at Lincoln Center. "This time, for whatever reason, I was floored and moved."

As is -- and the actor also won plaudits and an Obie Award for William Hoffman's "As Is," an incredibly moving, inchoate theatrical piece about AIDS -- "Awake and Sing!" sang to the Evanston, Ill., native son's soul. That Jewish family, he says ... "They were very much my people."

Not that he wouldn't want to hang out with Lancelot ... a lot. Indeed, such roles as Arthur and Herbie -- and the canker sore of a human cancer called Roy Cohn that he played in a national tour of "Angels in America" ("His plays are plays I'd like to do again," says Hadary, heaping high praise on Tony Kushner in whose "Hydriotaphia" he also starred in Houston) -- are why one does theater.

"I felt really well-placed playing Roy Cohn. And I feel that way now as Arthur."

For Art's sake, Hadary's is the most stable in a roundtable of characters who race round-and-round in their chase for the grail ... or is it a grilled-cheese sandwich? With these delightful knights and daze, it's often hard to tell.

Tellingly, however, is the show's contention -- and kiddingly composed number -- that "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews)."

Why, isn't Hadary Hebraic living proof that that's so?

"Well," he demurs, "there's no hard-and-fast rule."

But, he adds, a smile bouncing off his shining armor, "I am the first [Jew] to play Arthur" in "Spamalot."

And with the excellent caliber of a talent such as his, a knight manager who could get blood out of a stone just by pulling out a sword, Hadary the Lion of Judah-hearted had the audience at "shalom." 

 

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