GRIN AND SMILE AND LAUGH-ALOT
Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Monty Python and have seen five productions of Monty Python’s Spamalot. On Broadway, in Vegas, two touring companies in Los Angeles and now Musical Theatre West’s production currently running at The Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. High art it is not, but for silly, mindless, hysterical theatrical entertainment you would be hard-pressed to find a more apt musical. Even substandard productions of the show pack enough guffaws to keep the viewer happy. Fortunately MTW’s take on the multi-Tony winner is a rousing success.
The show, with book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John Du Perez and Eric Idle, is “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they set out on a quest to find the Holy Grail (the cup said to have been used at the Last Supper). I hesitate to get into the particulars of the plot or point out the abundance of sight gags so as not to ruin the element of surprise and joy of discovery for first time attendees. For those of you who have already been titillated by the show’s antics you know what to expect and are no doubt giggling in anticipation.
Davis Gaines (Phantom of the Opera) gives a pitch perfect performance as the put-upon King. His deadpan reactions and facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Throw in impeccable comedic timing and his rich vocal acumen and you have a performance that resonates on every level. Along the way he recruits Sir Dennis Galahad (Dan Callaway), Sir Lancelot (Zachary Ford) and the skittish Sir Robin (MTW fav Larry Raben) who is prone to soiling his pants in dangerous situations. All three actors play multiple characters with great success. Callaway inhabits The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s father, Ford brings The French Taunter, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter to life, and Raben frolics as Guard 1 and Brother Maynard. Doing quadruple duty is Richard Israel who excels in his portrayals of the Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard and Prince Herbert – Israel presents four fully realized and distinct characters that are always on the mark. Serving up the underappreciated companion to the King, Patsy, as well as the Mayor and Guard 2 is another familiar face to MTW regulars, Jamie Torcellini.
With all that testosterone flying around the stage it must be time to bring on the dancing girls. To that end, the show boasts several production numbers featuring a bevy of buxom babes decked out in everything from a nun’s habit to a scanty Vegas showgirl get up. The sole female lead role, The Lady of the Lake, is arguably one of the most challenging and when performed well, one of the most showy and memorable parts written for a woman in recent musical history. Just ask the original Broadway Lady, Sara Ramirez, who not only won the Tony but also subsequently landed a regular starring role on the hit ABC show Grey’s Anatomy. Each of her five songs is written in a different style allowing the actress to stretch her vocal abilities and soar. Stepping up to the plate and hitting a grand slam home run in this production is the ever amazing Tami Tappan Damiano (another frequent MTW star). She’s a hoot-and-a-half to watch and her rendition of Act II’s “The Diva’s Lament” is a real showstopper.
Director Steven Glaudini lends a appropriately light touch allowing the comedy to flow naturally. Since he never forces the jokes the result is pure fun. Billy Sprague, Jr. lovingly recreated the original choreography by Casey Nicholaw. The orchestra under the capable wand of John Glaudini sets the perfect musical tone and the set and costume design by Tim Hatley fits the show to a tee.
If you’re looking for a serious, socially responsible piece of theater than this isn’t the show for you, but if you’re in the mood for unbridled frivolity then Spamalot is just what the doctor ordered. As a bonus, musical theater aficionados will especially appreciate the light-hearted lampooning the show gives many of Broadway’s biggest hits. True, they’re inside jokes, but if you get the references they’re guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
photos by Alysa Brennan
Monty Python’s Spamalot
Musical Theatre West at The Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on July 15, 2012
for tickets, call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit http://www.musical.org