SPAMALOT's Medieval Antics are Silly Fun with Catchy Music (5 stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
Monty Python's SPAMALOT, Book & Lyrics by Eric Idle, Music by John du Prez and Eric Idle, directed and choreographed by Billy Sprague, Jr., with Michael M. Harvey, Scenic Design, Mark Nagle, Costume Coordination and Additional Costume Design, Jose Santiago, Lighting Design, Don Hanna, Sound Design, Kurt Alger, Hair and Wig Design, Natalie A. Lynch, Production Stage Manager, Tom Amos, Associate Producer, and Jesse Warkentin, Music Direction, runs September 27 to October 9, 2016 at the North Shore Music Theatre. See www.nsmt.org.
In medieval Britain, legendary King Arthur goes in search of the Holy Grail with his knights, and wild antics follow. They are taunted by giants and Frenchmen. They face the world's most dangerous monster. They cause mayhem. And it all happens in the context of intelligent commentary on the insanity of the feudal system all the way down to physical gags and silly puns that will make you burst out laughing despite yourself. It's a reworked "best of the best" of Monty Python, a much loved British comedy team of the 1970s. The show about ancient militant Christians even manages to lovingly celebrate and parody Jewish and gay cultures.
No wonder SPAMALOT won the Tony for best musical. It's everything you could want in a stage show. It's perhaps the funniest show that the North Shore Music Theatre has produced, but it's also a moving story with a message, and comes with great music that you'll find yourself humming all week long.
The show has a real plot -- it's more than a series of sketches -- but it's self-aware throughout and much of the humor comes from how it parodies known art forms. King Arthur doesn't ride a real horse. Instead his manservant bangs two halves of a coconut shell together to make a horse noise as they walk. Running gags give you a delightful "oh, no, here it comes" feeling just before you can't help yourself laughing again.
SPAMALOT is an ensemble show, and the only truly main character, King Arthur (Al Budonis), plays straight man to the crazy cast, allowing individual supporting actors to steal the scene. The Lady of the Lake (Haley Swindal) gets extended diva moments singing scat and hamming up her riffs. The cast showed exceptional comedic timing and exaggeration, even ad-libbing additional lines, physical antics, and one extended rant impersonating Donald Trump. A hiccup at the start of the "Dennis" sketch revealed just how challenging it is to patter rapidly and intellectually while farcically and childishly exaggerating one's tone of voice, which the cast pulled off marvelously elsewhere.
Kudos to Jennifer Geller whose dancing was notable. There was something about her execution of the choreography that added punch to the movements and made every transition graceful and thematic, with excellent timing. I can see why she is the understudy to Lady of the Lake and hope she gets a shot at it in at least one show this season.
Further kudos to Stephen Petrovich as the nuttiest nut in a play all about nutty nuts. Although he had few lines, as part of the supporting cast, mainly in dance numbers, he made big eyes and pursued lips to communicate "my goodness, good heavens!" to the audience, as though innocently titillated and wanting more. He seemed to always have a gesture or prancing composure that added more humor to what was happening. It had me noticing, "Oh my God, it's that guy again!" over and over through the show.
But really the show was full of strong performances. J. D. Daw (Sir Dennis Galahad) embodied being both prestigious knight and idiot, in the manner of Weird Al Yankovic. Jonathan Gregg as the French taunter took a basic theme way past ridiculous so that you had to think, "What is happening?"
It's interesting that enough time has passed since the misery of the Black Death that SPAMALOT can joke about it. The tragedy of easy and violent death of the era is parodied throughout, but those who die have a way of bouncing back and there is no real darkness in the show. The show is appropriate for children who can take a few swear words.
The show wasn't perfect. Despite some fixes it was heavily a male cast. The staging was sometimes awkward for a round theatre with an audience on all sides, although most times the cast turned to face everyone at points during each scene. Casting the owner of the North Shore Music Theatre, Bill Hanney, as God's voice in the production was a cute idea for insiders, but it was self-indulgent. He either is not an actor or did not rehearse, reading his lines. The show is filled with big musical numbers, but the staging and costuming performed their function but were not notable, and there were few genuinely awe-inspiring action or prop stunts.
SPAMALOT is a must-see show and it takes place at the wonderfully comfortable North Shore Music Theatre, which has its own all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant and a garden where you can stroll and take in the last few warm nights of the year. This production deserves an enthusiastic 5-stars plus. You really have to see it! See www.nsmt.org.