Reviewed by Barb Van Atta
How do you spoof a spoof?
In the case of Monty Python’s Spamalot, with non-stop laughs.
The Tony Award-winning musical, “lovingly ripped off” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, ups the ante on sacrilegious and scatological humor, blending beloved scenes from the cinematic send-up of Arthurian legend with new, endearingly over-the-top moments right out of a Ziegfeld folly or a Vegas revue. (Arthur and his nutty knights even are reminded that “what happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot.”)
As I sat in the filled-to-capacity Forum Sunday afternoon (Oct. 24), waiting for “the mighty portcullis” to rise, I wondered how Spamalot would be received by theater-goers unfamiliar with Pythonesque humor. I needn’t have worried. This was an audience of fans. The ovations that greeted every familiar movie bit and character were surpassed only by the applause and laughter that followed the appearance of each new character and musical number.
Although there are some songs in the movie, obviously, for a show to be a musical, it has to be full of music. Thus, for example, the “Bring out your dead/I’m not dead yet” plague scene graduates from comic bit to full-blown dance routine led by the sprightly Not Dead Fred (John Garry). King Arthur’s efforts to recruit knights for his Round Table prompts production numbers from The Lady of the Lake (Caroline Bowman) and the Laker Girls (no, not the basketball cheerleaders, you silly [insert French Taunter phrase of your choice]).
With the exception of Bowman and the appealingly bemused Steve McCoy (Arthur), the performers, again following Python tradition, doubled or even tripled and quadrupled on roles. Garry was the fey Prince Herbert; Adam Grabau’s four parts included Lancelot and the famed French Taunter (“Your mother was a hamster …”); Jacob L. Smith, when not tossing his golden locks as Sir Dennis Galahad, served as Lancelot’s lackey and “steed,” Concorde. Matt Ban juggled five roles, including Dennis’ mother, the Black Knight and the flatulent Sir Bedevere.
And they charmed in each role, although particular kudos go to the clever staging of the Black Knight’s amputations and to Galahad’s duet with the Lady of the Lake (“The Song That Goes Like This”). The Lloyd Webber-like power ballad helped establish Spamalot’s second motif — making mock of Broadway – with lyrics such as:
Once in every show
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? …
A sentimental song
If it casts a magic spell
They only hum along
We’ll over-act like Hell
Oh, this is the song that goes like this.
Although the characters rail against a key modulation, both Smith and Bowman were more than up to the task vocally. Bowman also showed off her musical and comedic chops with “The Diva’s Lament,” protesting her limited appearances in Act II.
Look, I know you don’t know any of these actors’ names — no Tim Curry or David Hyde Pierce or even Clay Aiken (who followed Pierce as Sir Robin on Broadway) — but these are all top-notch performers, very talented and obviously enjoying their time bringing the Middle Ages to Middle America. (The show even provides opportunities for local references such as Sunday’s mention of the Rent is Too Damn High Party.) By presenting this touring production, the Broadway Theatre League once again provided this community with an exhilarating and entertaining afternoon (and evening) in the theater.