Reviewed by George Basler
Spamalot begins with a quick summary of the good old days of the Middle Ages when plague, pestilence, wars and more plague were the order of the day. Not exactly a laugh riot, but don’t tell that to the inspired cast of zanies now on stage at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center in Owego.
Their antics come thanks to the hit Broadway musical, billed as “ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Like the movie, Spamalot, which opened this past weekend (March 6-8) and will run through March 22, is an outrageous spoof of the Arthurian legend of the Knights of the Round Table. The tale focuses on King Arthur and his motley crew of inept knights as they trot across the British Isles, hoof beats supplied by the knocking of coconut shells, searching for the “Holy Grail.”
Along the way, they encounter glitzy show girls, a jeering collection of French guards, comic monsters of the forest, a damsel in distress who turns out to be a gay prince who yearns to be a Broadway diva, and other assorted wackos. It’s all supremely silly, especially since the “Holy Grail,” when finally located, resembles nothing so much as an inauspicious bowling trophy.
When a musical is this much fun, and when the entire cast seems to be having such a rollicking good time, it’s easy to overlook the skill that goes into staging a production. But that’s a big mistake. A show such as Spamalot requires precise pacing or the humor could easily fall on its face. The Ti-Ahwaga production succeeds admirably in making it look easy.
The 15 cast members — many of the supporting roles are double-, or triple-, cast — give superb comic performances that strike just the right tone of delightful nuttiness. Credit director Brian Flynn for creating this tone and supplying crisp direction throughout. The comic musical numbers are especially well staged.
One caveat may be in order: Spamalot is a textbook example of Monty Python humor, which may not be to everyone’s taste. The humor glories in being irreverent, off beat and sometimes scatological. It gores a lot of sacred cows, notably religion, and can walk the line of being in bad taste. Be forewarned.
Spamalot also requires some familiarity with other Broadway musicals to be fully appreciated. The show includes parodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber ballads, Stephen Sondheim songs, Fiddler on the Roof dances and Broadway divas of all shapes and sizes.
The entire Python crew — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle — created the screenplay for the movie. John DuPrez and Idle wrote the music for Spamalot, and Idle supplied the book and lyrics.
In the end, Spamalot lacks any kind of a coherent plot. It’s more a series of sketches, many of whom the creators cheerfully admit have been recycled from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But who cares? There are laughs galore.
Singling out individual performers in a cast this uniformly excellent is a bit unfair. But special mention must go to two performers. Joe Brainard as the self-important, but rather clueless, King Arthur, gives a performance, marked by moments of comic exasperation, that provides the solid backbone of the show.
Alondra Hughes is absolute dynamite as The Lady of the Lake. She has a powerful singing voice and first-rate comic timing as she “sends up” a self-self-absorbed, over-the-top diva. The performance is priceless.
Spamalot includes “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a song that holds a special place in the heart of all Python aficionados, myself included, but which is not from the Holy Grail movie. Shawn Yetter hits the song out of the park.
Ti-Ahwaga’s Spamalot is an absolute joy and more fun than a barrel or monkeys. Need I say more?
IF YOU GO: Performances continue March 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. while Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $27 ($22 for students and seniors 60+). Purchase tickets online at www.tiahwaga.com, or call 687-2130.