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Monday, February 26, 2024
Lezlie Wade talks beating the odds with her record-breaking comeback from COVID
Lezlie Wade has had a long career in the arts, but her record-breaking production of Spamalot post-COVID takes up a “large chapter” of it. JULIA SACCO

Award-winning director, writer, lyricist and actor Lezlie Wade has been breaking records throughout her career. 

Just this September, her production of “Spamalot” became the second-longest-running play at the Stratford Festival, a milestone in Wade’s career. 

“I feel like if I was writing an autobiography, there would be a very large chapter called ‘Spamalot,'” she told The Lake Report.

“Spamalot,” a stage musical based on the classic 1975 comedy film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” came to Wade shortly before COVID-19 effectively shut down the entire Stratford Festival. 

“In January of 2020 I had a play called ‘The Tale of the Gifted Prince’ and it was optioned in New York,” Wade said.

In order to accurately tell this story, she said, the play had an entirely Asian cast, some of whom had recently returned from China, where the first cases of COVID-19 originated.

“We all got super sick,” she said. 

When she was heading back to Canada after completing the workshop, she heard whispers of incidents of COVID-19, she explained.

“Then, when I started back at the Stratford Festival, we were two weeks into the rehearsals when I got a call from my stage manager saying ‘I think you should get here as fast as you can,’ and this was at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Wade said. 

The door was already locked when she arrived at the theatre at 7:30 a.m, she said.

“At that point, people were saying, ‘Will it be a week? It might be a week, it might be ten days,’ We were still optimistic that we were coming back,” Wade said. “And then we weren’t.”

Because “Spamalot” is such a big show, she explained, they decided to delay it until everyone could properly recover.

“It was an interesting show to do for a struggling festival.”

In fact, Wade said she heard whisperings of people wondering why Stratford would put on a comedy show like “Spamalot,” which she called “ridiculous.”

“Ultimately, theatres need to do shows that sell tickets,” she said. “People want to laugh. Actually, it was better that we did it later because it was even more popular than it would have been. People want an escape and that’s what ‘Spamalot’ is.” 

The show was not without its difficulties, with the entire staff catching COVID at certain points, leading to a tight rehearsal schedule and little time to prepare.

However, it all came together in the end — and in time for them to receive news of a special guest set to attend their performance.

“We got the call that Eric (Idle) was coming to the Saturday preview before opening,” Wade said. 

Idle, one of six members of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe, co-wrote the music for “Spamalot” with John Du Prez, and wrote the script and song lyrics.

She said that she was able to attend a – rather nerve-wracking – dinner with Idle before the show.

“I grew up with the Pythons, my dad was a huge Python fan,” she said. “He was so lovely, he was so gracious, it was fantastic.”

Afterwards, Wade said that Idle was “absolutely over the moon with the show.”

“We are the second longest-running show now: ‘Rocky Horror’ has just squeezed a little ahead of us by six days.”

While she hoped the show would be a success, she never expected this level of response, she added.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Nowadays, Wade is at home in Niagara-on-the-Lake and working on several different projects.

She is hoping to continue working with Yellow Doors Theatre this upcoming season and her play “The Tale of the Gifted Prince” is getting a production at a major Canadian theatre, which has yet to be announced. 

Wade also has a new musical adaptation of “Macbeth” in its early stages, which she worked on with a theatre company in Maryland alongside Jonathan Monroe.

“An artist is like Sisyphus. I think an artist is always pushing that boulder up the hill and maybe that’s the effort,” she said. “And when the boulder rolls back down that’s when you start thinking about your next project, it’s a never-ending process.”

More information on Lezlie Wade and her work can be found on her website at lezliefwade.com

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