Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer Puts the Pop Diva In ‘Spamalot’

Her vocal riffs pay homage to—or shamelessly satirize—pop icons. “They change every night,” she says. “I consciously do a little Celine Dion—although there are some people who think that my Celine is more Alanis Morissette."

Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake in Spamalot. Jeremy Daniel

In the concluding episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last May, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer put in a surprise appearance as Carol Burnett—and, to hear her tell it, that spirit is still with her in her role as The Lady of the Lake in the Spamalot revival currently at the St. James Theater.

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“I feel like Carol Burnett in the heyday of The Carol Burnett Show,” she tells Observer. “That show wasn’t just about Carol. She had an ensemble—Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner, people who gave her more free time on her own show. The men in this show are some of the funniest I’ve ever worked with—not to mention, the nicest. It’s a real troupe of comedians.”

The only other femmes in the cast are five Laker Girls, who flutter about, mostly mute, making The Lady’s elaborate entrances busier and more beautiful. Everybody else is male.

The poster art promoting the original 2005 Broadway production — derived, of course, from the hilarious 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grailincluding galloping around to the clickety-clack of coconut shells knocked together — was a cartoon of the Holy Grail itself filled to overflowing with the quirky contenders for King Arthur’s Round Table. Dead-center in the ad was the king, drowning in self-doubts about the quality of his acquisitions. 

The newly revised art for the current revival has sprouted a new character: The Lady of the Lake herself, resplendent in all her glory, standing tallest among the rest of the characters. 

Kritzer brings a career-long set of skills to warrant such a conspicuous promotion. First off, she can do vocal riffs that pay homage to—or shamelessly satirize—pop divas of the day. Cher, Idina Menzel, and other strong-lunged ladies are in her repertoire, and a few make it into the show.

Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer Matthew Murphy

“They change every night, to be honest,” Kritzer confesses. “I consciously do a little Celine Dion—although there are some people who think that my Celine is more Alanis Morissette—and I consciously make an effort to do a little Mariah Carey with a high release, not with the whistle tone but with the high-pitched things I do in the show. People think I’m doing Liza Minnelli, but I’m really not. I’m really doing a version of a Vegas act—many different versions of many different Vegas lounge acts that I’ve seen in my life—and that somehow comes out like Liza.

“I draw from all my musical inspiration, imagine what I find interesting or funny and just pray that it’s right. Certainly, I have a voice teacher, and today, at four o’clock, I will have my voice opened up with the fabulous Joan Lader. She’s the only voice teacher with an honorary Tony.”

When Kritzer was trying out this portion of the show in Washington, she conferred with director-choreographer Josh Rhodes, and they worked up a lead-in joke. “I just thought that I needed a line, something to say right off the bat, so I walk out and I go, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m The Lady of the Lake, and this body is brought to you by Ozempic. Call your doctor.’”

Gamely, she works without a net a lot of the time, improvising and ad-libbing her way through the book, cracking up her castmates in the process. “I try to change it up and keep everybody on their toes,” she says. “I’ll do a singular joke sometimes, just to test it out. You never know what’s going to happen with me.”

She and Nik Walker (as Sir Dennis Galahad) make a meal out of their big duet, an all-purpose power-ballad entitled “The Song That Goes Like This.” In her view, “it’s like two actors trapped in the nightmare of being in a song that won’t end and keeps going higher. We love hearing the audience’s response.”

Midway through Act II, Kritzer gets her dynamo solo. The Lady of the Lake starts to realize that the Camelot contingent is wasting an inordinate amount of stage time battling Knights Who Say “Ni!” or French Taunters Who Fart in Your General Direction, and she storms forth center-stage, in her hell-hath-no-fury fashion, with “Diva’s Lament” (or “Whatever Happened to My Part”).

“The first preview I did it, I was super-nervous,” she remembers. “But I just stepped out there and did it. It got a standing ovation right after the song! I thought, ‘I guess I’m doing something right. This is not going to happen all the time, I know that, but take this in, Leslie. Enjoy this.’

“Now, when I do the song every night, it changes. It ebbs and flows, the audiences are different, but they all love it. I do not get standing ovations every night—that’s fine with me, I like to stay humble—but the song itself is so powerful, and I’ve added some personal things to it. I’m so blessed to have the best orchestra on Broadway, helmed by John Bell, who is our musical director and conductor. There’s nothing better than this. I’m a musician first. To be able to sing that song in that theater with my beautiful wig and my beautiful costume—I’m at the peak. I don’t know how much better it gets. I’m just grateful for however long I get to do it.”

Twenty years ago, Kritzer got the last seat in the house at the Shubert to see the original Spamalot, and she saw an “amazing,” Tony-winning Lady of the Lake—Sara Ramirez’s. She didn’t study it, and she didn’t take notes, but it did give her courage to take chances. 

Critical reaction to her performance has been mixed. Some say she stops the show. Some say she steals the show. Whatever, a few have given up and said, “Just give the girl the Tony.”

“For us and our show, we’re just thrilled to be on Broadway,” Kritzer says. “We never thought we’d get here. We were doing shows at the Kennedy Center for 10 performances and now we’re on Broadway. The Tonys are like—okay, if that happens, wow—but we’re just happy to be just on the board. It feels like a miracle. I’ll take what it comes. I love the Tonys. It’s our Super Bowl. I enjoy going to the parties. Whatever happens, I’m going to have a good time.” 

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Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer Puts the Pop Diva In ‘Spamalot’