Ben Davis grew up thinking he’d be a professional athlete or maybe an architect. Those two ideas didn’t pan out, but this acting thing seems to be working just fine.
“It was my mother who finally convinced me to audition for a high school musical,” said Davis. He plays Sir Galahad in the national touring production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” that will be at Proctors from Tuesday evening through Sunday afternoon. “I was a jock through most of high school, and then I thought about becoming an architect, but that took a lot of schooling. That’s when I realized that acting seemed like a good thing to try.”
A native of Indianapolis, Davis likes to think of himself as a versatile actor, but his singing voice has helped find him a regular home on the musical theater stage.
When he first saw “Spamalot” on Broadway in 2005, he knew the role of Sir Galahad, someday, somewhere, would be in his future. “I kind of knew that role would be the perfect fit for me,” said Davis, who has previously performed in national touring productions of “Les Miserables” and “La Boheme.”
“Thank God it’s happened that way, because ever since I saw it, that’s the role I’ve wanted to play.”
“Spamalot,” a musical based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” opened on Broadway in March 2005 and is still going strong. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won three of them, including Best Musical. The book and lyrics were written by Monty Python stalwart Eric Idle, who also collaborated on the music with John Du Prez.
An irreverent parody of the Arthurian Legend, “Spamalot” derives its name from a line in the movie that has one of the characters saying, “We eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot.” While Monty Python lovers were obviously drawn to the musical, “Spamalot” seems to have attracted an even bigger audience.
“I wasn’t a huge Monty Python fan myself, and I think that speaks to the show’s ability to reach people like me who weren’t really big fans,” said Davis. “When I first saw it, I loved it. I laughed my rear end off. It’s such a hilarious show, you don’t have to be a Monty Python fan to love it. Anybody going into the theater with an open mind is going to sit there and laugh. It just seems to hit everybody in their funny bone.”
Davis’ singing voice is not tested in “Spamalot” the way it was in “Les Miserables” or “La Boheme,” but he does sing and he does have a lot of fun.
“It’s not like singing opera, but the songs that I do are great songs and they’re a lot of fun to sing,” he said. “What this play does do is get your acting chops a good workout. It’s a great chance to exercise your comedic abilities and see what you can develop in that area.”
Davis wasn’t always convinced he was destined to become a performer until 1999 when he auditioned for a national touring production of “Phantom of the Opera” in Chicago.
“I was still thinking about becoming a stockbroker and I was doing various things in Indiana when I went to Chicago for the audition,” remembered Davis. “I didn’t get it, but those same folks invited me back to try out for ‘Les Miz’ and I got that part. Things have moved pretty quickly since then.”
Davis, who was just a few years out of Butler University where he studied voice with Steven Stolen, spent four years touring the country in “Les Miserables,” mostly playing a revolutionary leader named Enjoiras (which he played in Schenectady at Proctors) but also getting the opportunity in the lead role of Jean Valjean.
“I did that for four years and I ended up doing about every role in the play,” said Davis. “It was also in Schenectady that I learned that I had a part in ‘La Boheme.’ I can remember driving around Schenectady, going to the bakery for bread, and worrying about how I had to learn the opera. I was panicking.”
Davis was cast in the Los Angeles production of “La Boheme” with Hugh Jackman, and also was in the 2003 production on Broadway, performing as Marcello.
“It was one of those experiences you just can’t ever imagine topping,” said Davis. “Hugh Jackman told me that in a person’s entire career, they will be lucky to have five projects they will want to carry with them forever. ‘La Boheme’ was definitely that to me.”
Davis also performed on Broadway in 2003 in “Les Miserables,” as well as a 2006 revival of that show, and had another short Broadway run in the 2004 revival of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” He has also appeared on television in the CBS drama “Numb3rs,” and is also in a Kenneth Branagh film production of “The Magic Flute,” which has been out internationally since 2006 and will open in America this year.
“I want to be able to explore any opportunities that come my way,” said Davis. “Working with Kenneth Branagh was my first foray into film and it was an incredible experience. I love the theater obviously, but I would love to be able to do more film. I also want to do more opera. I guess I want to dip my hand into every basket I can.”
Now 32, Davis has come a long way since he quit his high school basketball team to join the indoor track team. That move not only led to his becoming an all-state high jumper, but also gave him more time to enjoy other pursuits, like acting.
“I quit hoop to run track my junior year, and because I had more time, my mother was able to talk me into auditioning for a play,” remembered Davis, who landed the role of Rif in his high school’s production of “West Side Story.”
“I was hooked, but I still never thought of it as much more than a hobby. But I knew I could sing, and if you really believe you can do something for a living, then you start putting in all the work you can.”
Davis is married and has recently moved to New York with his wife, Annie. His “Spamalot” gig began in October in Seattle and he is under contract to continue as Sir Galahad until next October.
“It’s great to be in a show and have your whole year planned, but it’s also nice to look ahead and think of what I might be doing in another year,” said Davis. “My wife started her own fashion business in New York and we love living there. But you have to look at things the other way. So yeah, It’d be great to get a gig on Broadway, but in this business you’re never quite sure what you’ll be doing next.”