|For one brief, hilarious moment, there was a play called 'Spamalot.' News-Progress photos by Keith Stewart|
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?
A sentimental song
That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along —
We’ll overact like hell —
For this is the song that goes like this
Yes it is! Yes it is!
— “The Song That Goes Like This” from “Spamalot”
It’s the rare musical comedy that can take you from farce to a treatise on political organization with the speed of a galloping coconut. And this is the show that goes like that.
We can thank “Spamalot” — and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the movie that inspired it — for opening our eyes to the fact that getting handed a fancy-ass sword from some soggy woman may not be a sound basis for a responsible system of government.
“Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you,” explains the constitutionally progressive peasant Dennis Galahad (Sean Zimmerman) to King Arthur (Robert Anthony Jones). “Oh, but if I went ‘round sayin' I was emperor just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.”
|Shook high in background; Jones in foreground|
Thus, when knights mime riding horses to the clip-clop of coconuts, the quest gets interrupted while bystanders muse just how a Cocos nucifera fruit from a tropical palm tree managed to turn up in Dark Ages England. Did an overburdened swallow drop it off?
This sort of stuff is as smart as it is silly. It’s a rare show that can make comic fodder out of migratory patterns and lift-to-drag ratios, you know.
And this show is all lift, no drag (well, a little zaftig drag by funnyman John McAvaney). The proceedings swirl in the kind of meta-show humor that could easily go bad in the wrong hands, but is delicious here.
The performers constantly cut away the supports for our suspension of disbelief and let it do a pratfall, reminding us that they’re actors in a show and we’re an audience in on the joke. That stuff reaches a crescendo in “The Song That Goes Like This,” a generic-aisle parody of every soaring, pompous declaration of love you’ve heard in a musical. Funny how potent cheap music can be.
Potent, too, is the colorful set by Jennifer Price-Fick and the especially colorful costumes by Timmy Valentine. Actors shed their armor to don disco garb and white tie and tails and who knows what all. We get tap dancing and scat singing. The pace is frenetic and the fun is eclectic.
“Spamalot” ultimately succeeds because it’s in the hands of assured professional performers who are in command of comic material they know to be first-rate. The air of confidence that generates is irresistible. Those performers include:
|Jared Titus as Sir Robin|
• Zimmerman as Galahad, tossing his head fetchingly in that long, blond wig. Shows you the mileage a talented actor can get out of a single prop. And his deadpan dismembered Black Knight is priceless.
• Karla Shook as the moistened bint herself, the Lady of the Lake. As one might expect, a supernatural siren who can crown kings and breathe underwater is a bit of a diva, and Shook lets us have that full force in “The Diva’s Lament.”
Her swift, knowing looks are priceless. “That’s awfully high for me,” Zimmerman sings uncertainly in their duet. “But as everyone can see, we should have stayed in D,” Shook replies, scowling pointedly into the orchestra pit.
• Marc Pera as Patsy, the Baldric of the piece (remember Blackadder?). Pera underplays masterfully, particularly when Jones moans the song “I’m All Alone” while his unappreciated sidekick is clearly right there beside him. Pera flavors the number with just the right air of resigned exasperation.
• Jones as Arthur. He was a comic tornado as Pseudolous in “Forum,” but here it’s his bombastic chin-up nobility that carries the day. He’s like Richard Burton doing Shakespeare on a nonexistent horse. Jones knows the secret — that the more seriously you can appear to take the silliest of proceedings, the funnier they are for everybody
• Matthew Alan Schmidt as Lancelot, a medieval brute with a soft center best revealed under disco lights. Good as he is in that role, Schmidt really rakes in the laughs in the other parts he plays, including a surly French gatekeeper and a gigantic Knight Who Says Ni. As with Jones, it’s Schmidt’s flat, absolutely convinced delivery that does the trick.
• Perhaps best of all, although it’s a tricky call, is Trey Compton. He portrays the plummy BBC-ish Historian who sets up the show as well as Herbert, a winsome prince who longs for a handsome knight to rescue him from home. Compton tackles this role in so determinedly gentle and sunny a fashion that he pulls every eye toward him.
Repeat viewings of this production would slide down easily. The show’s delightful and just about as durable as the 700-year-old legends that inspired it.
Incidental Intelligence: Python Eric Idle wrote the show's book and lyrics and collaborated with John Du Prez on the music, although “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin” were composed by Neil Innes for the 1975 film. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was written by Idle for the film “Monty Python's Life of Brian.”
The cast includes Kelsey Andres, Rachel Perin, Melissa Jones, Amanda Johns, Mandy Modic, Colin Shea Denniston, Andy Frank, Matthew Glover AND Peter Marinaro.
The show has lighting design by Matthew Frick, stage management by Jeremy J. Phillips, fight coordination by Compton and musical direction by Kevin Long. Andres is dance captain.