Monday, July 29, 2013

Theater review: Monty Python's Spamalot

Posted By on Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 2:09 PM

In various tales that began cropping up in the Middle Ages, the Holy Grail has variously been a serving dish, a dinner plate, a precious stone, or a drinking cup. Of those, the cup seems to have captured the imagination most strongly, I presume because it is the only one of those objects that we can easily visualize touching the lips of God - you know, during Passover? Whatever the sacred relic may have been, it hadn't traditionally been the object of satire, mockery, or lampoon until a sextet of mad Brits perpetrated Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975.

Nor was that the end of Monty's impudence and sacrilege. For lo, in the year 2005, there came upon Broadway a new tuneful adaptation yclept Monty Python's Spamalot, mocking King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, the Holy Grail, and Broadway musicals. This new stinkbomb, thrown by co-writers Eric Idle and John DuPrez in the face of all that is holy and English, merely won the Tony Award and has triumphantly toured here twice, first at Ovens Auditorium in 2006 and last year at Knight Theater.


The current version capping CPCC Summer Theatre's 40th anniversary season isn't exactly chopped liver compared to those national tours - unless you scrutinize the production values. Both scenic designer Joe Gardner and costume designer Jennifer Matthews have prioritized shrewdly, but you can detect areas where they are scrimping and stretching their budgets. Poor Brandon Riddle was mostly precious as the effete Sir Robin, but he was the victim du jour of Halton Theater's notoriously fickle sound system at the Sunday matinee, so much so that I found myself wincing whenever he sang.

Nearly as aggravating as the sound system was the repeated rise and fall of the black upstage scrim, hiding and revealing the orchestra seated behind the action. I can't begin to grasp director Tom Hollis' thinking on all that gratuitous fidgeting. Along with two fine drops we see from Gardner, couldn't enough peoplepower be found at our finest community college to paint a couple of those scrims so we might see discreet professional scene changes each time the curtains closed? By the fifth time I'd witnessed all the curtain and scrim action of this Spamalot, that became a pretty insistent question for me.

Fortunately, the other lead performers weren't bedeviled by their mikes - even though they may have been wondering who was next. James K. Flynn rides the invisible coconut-clopping steed of King Arthur with marvelous aplomb, playing straight man to all the knights of Camelot and many of the mock hazards that impede their quests. Handling the hoofing percussion is Craig Estep as Arthur's faithful servant Patsy, his funniest comedy turn ever.

Comedy is the main reason why this production, like our knights-errant, triumphs over adversity. But there are also vocal fireworks from Lucia Stetson as the Lady of the Lake that repeatedly set the stage ablaze. Her scorching renditions of "The Song That Goes Like This," first with Sir Galahad and then with Arthur, spearhead the satiric assault on Broadway conventions along with her "Diva's Lament" and Sir Robin's hilarious "You Won't Succeed on Broadway."

It only takes seven live actors onstage to replicate all the shape-shifting accomplished on film by the original Pythons. Ashton Guthrie starts us off as our tweedy Historian narrator, but he's funnier as Not Dead Fred; Michael Lawrence's cameos as the French Taunter and the towering Knight of Ni outshine his Sir Lancelot; and Zack Williams delivers an absurdly pugnacious Black Knight that decisively upstages his somewhat ungainly Sir Dennis Galahad.

Linda Booth also helps take out minds off CP's tech troubles with her goofy choreography, and you could almost feel the smiles spreading around Halton as Patsy readied himself to console the doleful King Arthur with "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Get ready to whistle!

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