Friday, January 18, 2008

Clay Aiken's Spamalot Debut Tonight!


Clay Aiken's big knight on Broadway


Friday, January 18th 2008
by Joe Dziemianowicz



Clay Aiken debuts as the cowardly Sir Robin in the hit musical 'Spamalot.'

Pop singer, how-to author and now, Broadway hatchling, Clay Aiken debuts Friday as Sir Robin in "Monty Python's Spamalot," the squirrely musical spoof of the Arthurian legend.

Aiken is the latest in an ever-expanding roster of "American Idol" contestants who've leapt to Broadway. The list includes Fantasia ("The Color Purple"), Diana DeGarmo ("Hairspray"), Frenchie Davis and Tamyra Gray ("Rent") and Josh Strickland ("Tarzan").

In the past couple of years, Aiken has fielded offers from other Broadway shows but passed because he was either busy or not very interested. He chose "Spamalot," he says, "because it's completely different. A lot of the stuff seemed, for lack of a better word, boring."

"Spamalot" is anything but. "It's the silliest thing on Broadway," he says, adding that it felt like a good fit even if Robin doesn't warble all that much. "I have a part with minimal singing," he says. "My big number is a Noel Coward-style patter song."

He goes on to say that most people would have expected him to do something more traditional and with more shots for solos. His powerful pipes are, after all, his claim to fame. The show's humor pulled him in. "It appealed to me," he says, "in the same way that it appeals to audiences."

Aiken credits fellow "Idol" alum Fantasia with playing a part in bringing him to Broadway. "Seeing her in 'The Color Purple' helped me decide to do this," says Aiken. "I was blown away. She said she was enjoying the experience."

Aiken has been relishing working with legendary director Mike Nichols. "He knows so much you have to be a sponge around him," he says. "He's the funniest person I ever met, so dry and wise."

He's even appreciated the rather bizarre visualizations and motivations Nichols uses. "He was trying to teach me to react to something," says Aiken. "He said, 'Imagine if you came in and we said, 'Every fifteenth performance, we cut off a toe.'"

Audiences will find out tomorrow if the tip actually helped, and they'll see the new bits of music and jokes "Spamalot" writer Eric Idle has added for Aiken. "It's just a touch here and there," says Aiken. Songs have been modified to better fit his voice.

Aiken can take comfort that he's not the only new kid on the stage. Hannah Waddingham, who played the Lady of the Lake in the London production, starts Saturday in that role at the Shubert Theatre. "I've kind of gotten past the whole audience-makes-me-nervous thing," Aiken says, "but this is the first time I've danced. I'm kind of a little weirded out about that."


Having his fans, those notorious Claymates, in the audience could ease his mind and let him know he's among friends. "They're coming out in full force," he says. "They'll be in the house."

And so will Clay - through May 4. When Fantasia's spotty "Purple" attendance record comes up, Aiken declares he's not using her as a role model when it comes to showing up for performances. "I plan," he says, "on making them all."

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