San Diego Theater Review: SPAMALOT (Cygnet Theatre)

by Milo Shapiro on July 9, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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THE HOLY GRAIL OF SILLY MUSICALS

The tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table stand as icons of literature, leaving them ripe for outrageous parody in Monty Python’s 1975 cult classic Monty Python and the Holy GrailSpamalot walks the line of being a musical version of Holy Grail and being (as the Pythoners frequently say on their 1969-1974 television program) “something completely different.”

Spamalot is primarily the creation of Python original member Eric Idol (book, lyrics and a shared music credit with John du Prez). As in the film, Spamalot portrays the travels of this version of King Arthur (Sean Murray) as he assembles these truly misfit knights for the quest laid out for them by God (shown in a cartoon overhead): to find the Holy Grail. What happens from there (and, really, even up until then) bears little resemblance to any of the true Round Table stories. Not a soul in the house will mind, though, as the band is mocked by snooty French soldiers, attempts to rescue a suffering maiden (or is she?), faces the evil Knights Who Say “Ni” (a word that causes pain to all who hear it), and endures great shenanigans.

At times, the script is extremely loyal to the movie with whole passages being verbatim (as we former youngsters, once-obsessed with Monty Python, can attest to) right down to some of the French taunt of “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!” Some otherwise-familiar scenes yield different outcomes, though, allowing the flavor and memories of the film to come through while propelling the altered plot-line for this version.  Then there are numerous parts, especially in Act II, which are completely new for Spamalot. And, deliciously out of left field, a nod to one of Monty Python’s other great films, The Life of Brian, as its key song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is used in a new context here.

The biggest difference between the film and the movie, though, is that there was very little singing or dancing in the big screen version (yes, a bit in Camelot, but not enough to make the film a musical) whereas Spamalot is unquestionably a musical. Truly a silly, nonsensical musical with a loose through line at best, but none could argue that we see plenty of song and dance, including a rather good tap number. While purists might initially find it strange to receive an upbeat song coming out of the originally dour “Bring out your dead” section of the film, the tunes overall fit the flavor here with some good voices, particularly from The Lady of the Lake (Christine Hewitt) whose part is expanded from almost nothing in the film to a major character here.

Under Sean Murray’s direction, the pacing is swift, the slapstick hits the mark, and the essential  silliness is given its due.  Jonathan Sangster adds some lovely tenderness to the show as Patsy, Arthur’s underappreciated henchman, while also rising to the occasion again every time his comedic timing is needed.

What is hard to judge is whether someone unfamiliar with the film would find the joy in it nearly as much as those of us who cherish it. But for the many of us who were captivated by every episode of BBC’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus and who watched this film time and again, Spamalot is a loving tribute to the spirit of Python with some fun, new twists.

photos by Ken Jacques Photography

Spamalot
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on August 12, 2018
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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