Spellbinding and zany production: Spamalot Review

Originally posted on Berkshire On Stage
Monty Python’s Musical Gallop
by Barbara Waldinger
Review included in its entirety below.

To find the Holy Grail, it seems that the legendary King Arthur was required to produce a Broadway show; at least that’s Monty Python’s conceit. And the production of Monty Python’s Spamalot now playing at the Mac-Haydn Theatre is more than worthy of the Grail—it is a genuine extravaganza! On a tiny stage in this theatre-in-the-round in a bucolic setting with props and set pieces visible outside and along the walkways into the performance space, we meet a huge cast of young people who sing and dance their hearts out (often at the same time), adorned with the most fabulous costumes imaginable.

Monty Python’s Spamalot, very loosely adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, premiered on Broadway in 2005, directed by Mike Nichols. Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical, and two Drama Desk Awards, the play spawned international productions and tours. A madcap parody of Broadway musicals as well as the Arthurian and Camelot legends, the show recounts how King Arthur recruits knights to join him at a round table in Camelot, where they embark on the God-ordained quest for the Holy Grail, encountering ridiculous obstacles and outrageous characters along the way.

This production, like its Broadway counterpart, stuffs everything but the kitchen sink into its jam-packed song and dance numbers. Lunacy reigns throughout, beginning with the first song, which illustrates life in Finland, though the helpful projections on two walls show a map of England in 932 A.D. The energetic ensemble, in colorful Finnish costumes and blond wigs, gaily smack one another with fish, in what purports to be a native folk dance. At length, King Arthur admonishes them: this is England, not Finland, whereupon they morosely vacate the stage, having misheard or misunderstood the narrator. Camelot turns out, is a Las Vegas resort with showgirls in sexy outfits and a strip tease by the Lady of the Lake, who starts out in armor and ends in one of her gorgeous silver and feather concoctions. Speaking of strip teases, later in the proceedings Lancelot’s love for a gay prince is celebrated in a disco with his knightly garb removed to reveal a tight, glittering getup, complete with an outsized codpiece. The insanity is ubiquitous: nonstop. Characters seemingly wander in from numerous familiar shows to join a Fiddler on the Roof takeoff, as part of a search for the Jews who are essential to guarantee a successful musical comedy. There are so many references to other shows, to modern events, to anything the characters free-associate with whatever is going on, that we are left laughing and breathless as we await the next surprise.

Compliments to the costume designer, Angela Carstensten, for the amazing number and variety of glorious and comedic outfits, to Michael Dunn and Timothy Williams for the many wigs and to Megan McQueeney for an endless supply of props. Bravo to the choreographer (Sebastiani Romagnalo) for his inventive dance movements, aided by a revolving stage, and for figuring out the placement of all those performers on the stage and in the aisles. The scenic designer (Andrew Gmoser, who also designed the lighting) makes wonderful use of a castle and drawbridge that rises and falls with room at the top for characters to appear and disappear, not to mention projections and fog. The lighting effects are extraordinary; the orchestra, containing percussion, reeds, horns and bass, sounds like a full Broadway pit (thanks to musical director Jillian Zack), while the sound designer/audio engineer (Ethan Carleton) provides animal effects, among others, as well as enhanced amplification for the deities. And, of course, congratulations to the director, Neal Kowalsky, who presides over this entire circus.

The actors and ensemble are uniformly spirited, disciplined and talented. John Anker Bow as King Arthur emcees all of the action with just the right touch of conviction and stupidity. His servant Patsy (Ross Flores) whose hand-held coconuts stand in for horses’ hooves, is an ideal foil, especially as his master mournfully sings I’m All Alone, while Patsy faithfully stands right there beside him, a resentful serving of chopped liver. Madison Stratton as The Lady of the Lake is a sublime comedienne with a terrific voice; Gabe Belyeu’s Dennis, the socialist turned Knight, is a perfect Sir Galahad, posing and preening, and his duet with Stratton (The Song That Goes Like This) is delightfully campy. Connor Hubbard as Sir Lancelot, attempting the rescue of a damsel in distress (who turns out to be Herbert, the prince) forced to marry against her will, is precious as he breaks down crying, remembering his own bully of a father. Paul Wyatt’s Sir Robin is a triple threat: dancer/singer/comedian—and he is equally adept at all of them. Ryan Owens’ French Taunter shouts inexhaustible and bizarre curses that build in hilarity.

Monty Python’s Spamalot may be a lot of spam, but it adds up to a feast of musical and comic delights. It was a shock to see a very young child perched on his mother’s lap in the audience, but he never once cried—so beguiled was he by this spectacle. Adults and children alike are sure to be awed by this spellbinding and zany production.