It's a Silly Thing: Spamalot Triggers the Giggle Machine at the Beck Center

If you are opposed to silly things on moral grounds, then you should steer clear of Spamalot, now at the Beck Center. Because this show is not just silly—it is profoundly, deeply and terminally silly in a way that continually redefines silly for more than two hours.

And thanks to an energetic and sublimely silly production under the direction of Scott Spence, the laughs come in profusion. Even on opening night, with light and sound glitches galore, the silly won hands down.

Of course, you know about all this silliness if you're familiar with the flick Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the not-at-all serious take on King Arthur legends on which this musical is based. With loopy lyrics by the Monty Python comedy troupe stalwart Eric Idle, and music by Idle and John du Prez, the show is a festival of Broadway in-jokes and, of course, everything silly.

Consider that the first song doesn't even belong in the show, the result of actors mis-hearing the historian-narrator and staging a rollicking Scandinavian "Fish Schlapping Dance." Once the narrator corrects them ("I said England, not Finland!"), we're off and running, or galloping, as King Arthur rides in on his pretend horse followed by his faithful aide Patsy (a consistently amusing Pat Miller), providing the horse-hoof sound effects with two coconut shells.

Is that silly? Hell, you ain't seen nothing yet. In a land riddled by deadly plagues, they are carting off dead bodies and dragging corpses out of homes. Of course, most of those cadavers are still alive, a fact they elucidate emphatically in the catchy tune "I Am Not Dead Yet."

From there we meet the Lady of the Lake who turns local, run-of-the-mill political radical Dennis Galahad into Sir Galahad. The Lady and Sir G then sing the show's most appealing ditty, "The Song That Goes Like This," a delicious parody of every formulaic Broadway musical number.

Also involved in this fractured tale: the search for the Holy Grail, a meeting in glitzy Vegas-like Camelot, a Black Knight who is de-armed and de-legged by King Art, an assignment to mount a Broadway musical, a search for Jews so they can produce the musical, secretly gay Lancelot falling for effeminate Prince Herbert, and on and on.

The strong Beck cast holds all this exploding goofiness together by sheer will. As King Arthur, Dougfred Miller plays it straight and is often hilarious as he tries to pursue his mission while surrounded by lunatics. Jessica L. Cope handles the singing chores of the Lady of the Lake with regal assurance, savoring every moment of her act-2 "Diva's Lament."

All the other speaking parts are mostly men, and they each have notable moments. Among several roles, Timothy J. Allen is a treat both as Not-Dead-Fred and as Prince Herbert, the fey fellow who is prohibited from singing by his dad until Lancelot frees him (after a lethal plunge from a tower—oops, he's not dead yet).

Matthew Ryan Thompson is giggle-worthy as Sir Robin, a knight with fragile intestines and a passion for singing and dancing. He takes the lead on "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews)."

Brian Altman garners a bundle of laughs as the French Taunter, although some of his words get tangled up in his accent. And Eric Thomas Fancher as Galahad is properly noble, although in "The Song That Goes Like This" he doesn't land the Les Miz line ("It's FAR too LONG I'm SURE") made de rigueur since the original Broadway production thanks to that performer's Colm-Wilkinson-as-Valjean delivery.

The hard-working ensemble hoofs through choreographer Martin Cespedes' witty dance routines, and finally the Holy Grail is located, thanks to a helpful audience member.

In short, this Spamalot is laugh-out-loud funny and will help you "Look On the Bright Side of Life." If you like silly, that is.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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