Jonathan Bennet calls himself the “biggest musical theater nerd on the face of the earth.” He did theater in high school, college, and even in the basement of his childhood home. “Most kids want a tree house built, I asked for a proscenium arch with a red curtain to be built in my basement instead,” he says. He moved to New York at the age of 19 to pursue a career on Broadway, but he ended up booking the soap opera All My Children, which led to the Mean Girls film, in which he played probably his most famous role, the love interest Aaron Samuels. “And then it was off to the races doing film and TV, but there’s always been that itch that I could never scratch and that is being on a Broadway stage doing musical theater,” he says. On Tuesday, January 23, he finally made that dream come true when he started his run as the knight Sir Robin in Monty Python’s Spamalot at the St. James Theatre.
Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot spoofs the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Sir Robin, an expert in musical theater, teaches King Arthur how to put on a Broadway musical. The role is a perfect fit for Bennett. “Sir Robin is such a fun role to take on because you get to be the knight that’s afraid of fighting, and what a great juxtaposition to start with as a character. To have two things that completely contradict each other is one of the best grounds for comedy,” Bennett says. “The biggest thing I’m excited for with Sir Robin is because I am such a Broadway musical theater freak, the fact that I get to sing a song about how special Broadway is and what musical theater means and why Broadway musicals are so amazing. The character’s grail is musical theater, and my grail is musical theater, so it’s like art imitating life.”
TheaterMania spoke to Bennett about taking over the role from Michael Urie, acting in Hallmark movies, and more.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Is there a scene or number in the show that you’re excited to perform?
I can’t wait to sing “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” but I love the guard scene with the father where you get to have that who’s-on-first moment. Nik Walker does such a great job of playing the father in that scene that I can’t wait to get onstage and play with him. I have some tricks up my sleeve that I can’t wait to unleash on him when there’s an audience and see how he responds because it’s one of the most iconic comedy scenes ever written, and the fact that I get to do that onstage on Broadway eight nights a week is wild to me.
Have you had a chance to rehearse with the cast at all?
Getting put into a show that is a rocket ship speeding towards the sun every day is extremely overwhelming. I rehearse with the dance captain and the associate director every day and then we just now started to put some of the swings in with me so I can have other bodies onstage to feel what it will feel like, but I only do the entire show one time with the principals before we open. It’s called your put-in rehearsal. But let me tell you what, this cast has been so warm and so welcoming because the show lends itself to good people because it’s a show that embraces all the qualities and tropes of musical theater.
The moment I booked the job and closed my deal, the first person that texted me was Michael Urie. And he said, “Hey, it’s Michael. I just want to say hello and welcome you. I’m so excited you get to play this role. I am at your disposal. Whatever you need, however I can help, I’m here.” We went to dinner, and he said ask me any question you want, so I got to pick his brain and I’ve been tracking him backstage and getting to know him and following him around to make sure I know what happens behind the scenes and where I go.
Did Michael Urie say anything that really stood out to you?
“Make sure you breathe, not just during the ‘Broadway’ number because you’re going to have to breathe, but make sure you take moments backstage and breathe.” You want to not just breathe so you can get through the numbers, but breathe so that you’re absorbing what you’re doing. You’re onstage, on Broadway, having your Broadway debut, and you’re in Spamalot by Monty Python on Broadway. Take it in. And the advice I gave him was to stop doing all your hilarious shtick in front of me because I’m just going to steal it.
We’re here to talk about Spamalot, but I have to bring up Mean Girls, especially since the new movie just came out. Since it is a musical, did you want to be a part of the film or are you of the mindset that it’s time to pass the torch?
My Mean Girls experience is my Mean Girls experience. And so whatever iterations of those characters they do is great, but I don’t really feel one way or another about it. It’s like my Mean Girls is my Mean Girls and there can be other ones and that’s fine, but I haven’t seen the movie because I’ve been too busy being on Broadway.
You’ve made a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies, including the first Hallmark film with a lead gay couple. Do you feel a lot of responsibility because I think you said yourself that you’re the, I forget the exact phrase you used…
Did I say the gay king of Christmas?
Yes, that was it.
I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that gay stories are being told, not just at Christmas on the Hallmark channel, but throughout the year and everywhere. In fact, today we just got nominated for Christmas on Cherry Tree Lane for a GLAAD award, so that will be my I think seventh or eighth GLAAD nomination. It’s important to make sure that these stories are told because I didn’t have those stories when I was growing up.
I know you’re just starting this show and you’re probably not thinking ahead, but do you have any dream roles?
Of course I do. I want to be Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. I want to be Billy Flynn in Chicago. And I want to be what’s his name in Hairspray? Not Link Larkin. Who’s the other guy? [starts to sing] “Every afternoon you turn your TV on…”
Yes, I want to be Corny Collins in Hairspray. I want to be Billy Flynn in Chicago. I want to be Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors. Or I’d be the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. All those shows. I want to be in all of them.
Well, Little Shop and Chicago are still running.
Put me in coach!