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Lovingly ripped off: the cast of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Look on the Bright Side

By Kathryn Lange

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Book & Lyrics by Eric Idle, Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, Directed by Mike Nichols

Proctors Theatre, through Jan. 13

Not every musical opens with an announcement to “please let your cell phones and pagers ring willy-nilly,” and has the audience laughing at jokes before actors even deliver the punchline. Not every musical interrupts itself before the first number and mistakenly cuts to Moose Village, Finland, for a traditional “Fisch Schlapping Song.” And not every musical includes a song-and-dance performed by a cart full of plague-ridden corpses. But Spamalot, the Tony Award-winning musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” is certainly not just any musical.

It is the kind of musical in which the mythical King Arthur (Michael Siberry) and his tabbard-and-tights-clad Knights of the Round Table perform a lively tap dance in “a dark and very expensive forest,” whistling and spinning smiling sunshine umbrellas. It is the kind of musical in which the leading lady (Esther Stilwell)—yet to appear in Act 2—storms onto a darkened stage, and shakes the house with a number driven by the lyric, “Whatever happened to my part?” It is the kind of musical in which the romantic duet opens with “Once in every show there comes a song like this.” And, later, a booming voice emanating from the giant cartoon cut-out feet of God (John Cleese, recorded) declares, “Of course it’s a good idea you stupid tit, I’m God!”

With book and lyrics penned by original Monty Python member Eric Idle, and music by John Du Prez, who collaborated with Monty Python on Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life, and other projects, Spamalot could not be more true to the spirit of Python. Much of the script is lifted directly from the film, and the cast (for the most part) handles the classic material with comedic timing that respectfully echoes the original. The songs and new bits deliver Broadway glitz, but hold true to the droll and outlandish wit that define Monty Python.

The set and costume designs by Tim Hatley masterfully evoke the art and animation of Monty Python actor and animator Terry Gilliam, from the whimsically clunky clouds and the grail-clutching hand of God to the aformentioned “very expensive forest.” The playing space is truly that—space for playing—and the actors attack the mountains and courtyards with vigor. The pallete shifts wildly between crisp and vivid Vegas glam, and filth-covered parchment—there’s not one moment when you can guess what will come next.

Despite apparent sound trouble in Act 1 that had the actors pushing to fill the theater and a few peripheral adjusting-to-the-new-stage moments, the cast was delightful, and returned after intermission to hit the back of the house with ease. Michael Siberry seemed to be channelling Tim Curry as King Arthur, his casual physicalities, his intonations, his grimaces. It was almost eerie, and brilliantly successful for a touring production, intended to offer the closest possible on-the-go interpretation of the original Broadway show. The scenes between Siberry’s Arthur and Jeff Dumas as his loyal squire, Patsy, are some of the show’s best. Dumas delivers Broadway with ease, energy and honesty reminiscent of Gene Kelly—only shorter, plumper, and burdened with all of Arthur’s belongings. The pair play off each other with charm; it takes true acting chops to render a song that includes the lyrics, “I’m all alone/No you’re not, I’m here you twat!,” one of the most genuinely touching moments of the play.

The rapid doubling, part of the silliness that infused the original film, demanded unwavering energy from some actors, and Christopher Sutton (Not Dead Fred, Prince Herbert, Historian, Minstrel, French Guard) and Patrick Heusinger (French Taunter, Knight of Ni, Tim the Enchanter, and “the homocidally brave Sir Lancelot”) lived up to the call, commanding many of the night’s biggest laughs.

Spamalot is an energetic, musical in-joke for fans of Broadway, Monty Python, and history. The pure, silly joy of the show is escalating and infectious—at curtain the audience was on its feet, clapping and singing the Python classic “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s canned ham and softshoe, it’s funny as hell, and it’s a damn good reminder to laugh at yourself once in a while.

 


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