Monty Python's Spamalot
If you are not dead yet and always look on the bright side of life, as I do, you will be glad to clip-clop your coconuts over to the Arts United Center as Civic Theatre opens a long-awaited can of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Be prepared to think yourself a silly Sir Laughalot as bawdy knights, quarrelsome sentries, peasants, fish-schalpping Finns, insult-hurling Frenchmen, flirty Laker Girls and that diva, the Lady of the Lake, all assemble to fling about music hall humor of the crudest sort, full of fart jokes and pant-soiling, bad puns and appearances by God, or at least his feet and hand. In other words, it is a jolly good time.
The show is more of a story than the original movie was. The author (or should that be Python assembler-in-chief?) Eric Idle and composer John Du Prez have stitched together as coherent a show as one is ever likely to find from many classic Monty Python bits mashed together (which is a bit appropriate ,given that the show is named after a processed meat product: Spam). Idle mixes in not only Python prizes like the charming song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the other Python movie, Life of Brian, but also enough winking nods to Broadway conventions that one begins to realize that Idle and Mel Brooks are kindred spirits. It’s like The Producers became knights and quested in search of Tevye’s Holy Milk Dish.
It was fun to hear audience members say, as they nudged each other, “Oh, I love this part” or “Nie!” or “I fart at you!” But even for those not in the Python embrace, it’s a funny show. Whether it was the sentry’s debating the aerodynamic capacities of coconut-carrying swallows or the poof-spoofing Lancelot-and-Herbert wedding (“will still be controversial 1,000 years from now”), there was something for someone to be laughing about at all times.
In the able care of guest director Doug King – who in the past has shepherded some Josephs, captured the charms of Suessical, and given Civic a Cinderella that just fit – this Spamalot is full of raucous, silly, naughty fun. Director King is ably supported by Civic’s team of Robert Shoquist and Rob Pelance designing the scenery and lights, Louise Heckaman’s costumes, stage manager Emma Ashmawi and the estimable Eunice Wadewitz as music director. King’s choreography particularly shines, and Wadewitz’s pit orchestra and the singing are terrific.
Jessica Butler as the Lady throws her whole self into the part and is splendid. One can’t really say she steals the show, since that is how the part was conceived, but heck, she does anyway. Whether it’s her duet with Ethan Bair for “The Song That Goes Like This” or Vegas-style scatsinging with Scott Rumage’s Arthur of “Knights of the Round Table,” Butler claims her diva title and shines with it.
Rumage’s Arthur is a bit of a stiff, as he should be, as well as classy and good company. He’s the designated straight man which allows everyone else to get (there’s that word again) silly! His singing could sometimes be a bit soft of voice on opening night, but he is steady and noble, and by the end of the evening he comes into his own, ably bantering with the orchestra and audience. He had grown from fellow in clean armor to charming king.
Aaron Mann as the long-suffering Patsy is a delight, especially in the “I’m All Alone” number, but from the start, he’s the man with the coconuts and can gallop with the best of them. Knights Michael Pugh, Ethan Bair, and Gary Lanier are each standouts at various times, along with Nathan Garner, Reuben Albaugh, and Kerry Yingling in several roles. Rounding out the cast are Isaac Becker, Ken Low, Matthew Craig, Ennis Brown, Jr., Mason Hunter, Momo Lamping, Stephanie Longbrake, Elyse Losen, Melanie Lubs, Morgan Spencer and Dawn Yingling.
So, If your dreary winter days have been short on tales of blondes in ponds, shrubbery-seeking killer rabbits, tap-dancing knights and ladies and rescues of princes in distress, then claim your purpose, count to three (and no more than three) and hie thee to the theatre where they shall put on a show which will help you find the Grail you seek. And don’t forget, what happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot!