'Tis a Silly Thing

Monty Python's Spamalot is an indefatigable joy.

Monty Python's Spamalot The State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue Through October 15, 216-241-6000
And now for something completely different.
And now for something completely different.
There is a certain irresistible attraction that silly jokes create, and the sillier the better. Icky too.

So it's not surprising that so many people are obsessed with the comic stylings of Monty Python, the Brits who exhibit an almost religious devotion to a sublimely juvenile sense of humor. The highs and lows of fart jokes, airborne cows, and deadly bunnies are on display in Monty Python's Spamalot. This uproarious musical joyfully rips off every gag and titter from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it adds enough of its own touches to make it a treat for Python addicts and newbies alike.

Goofily structured around the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Spamalot ranges far and wide to poke fun at portentous musicals and the gilded stature of storybook heroes like Sir Lancelot. With music by John Du Prez and co-Python Eric Idle, along with book and lyrics by Idle, the show generates more laughter per nanosecond than any production in memory.

It all begins, properly enough, in the wrong country, with Scandinavian lads and lasses singing and smacking each other in the face with mackerels, an apparent dating ritual in the appropriately titled "Fisch Schlapping Song." Quickly, the geographical error is corrected, and we're plopped down in medieval England, where King Arthur is approaching a town on horseback. There's no horse, of course, so the King (we know he's the King because, as a resident observes enviously, he hasn't got shit all over him) prances along with the assistance of his flunky Patsy, who diligently makes the hoof-clopping sounds with a pair of coconut shells.

As the King, Michael Siberry turns in a humorously solid but ultimately uninspired performance, baffled and bewildered by his search for the Holy Grail. Jeff Dumas gives Patsy a diligent and determined air, and is particularly funny during the King's self-pitying solo "I'm All Alone," during which the royal never acknowledges his omnipresent aide and luggage carrier.

The most pointed jabs at other musicals come from the Lady in the Lake, ably backed up by the bodacious Laker Girls. She woos Sir Galahad (Bradley Dean) to join Arthur's Knights, then sings a duet with him, "The Song That Goes Like This." This meta-ballad ("Once in every show/There comes a song like this") punctures the musical pretensions of Andrew Lloyd Webber types: "I'll sing it in your face/While we both embrace/And then we change the key." Pia Glenn is every inch a haughty, bad-ass bitch as the Lady, and she scores later in a solo, "The Diva's Lament," in which she pouts, "Whatever happened to my part?" after cooling her heels offstage.

As for the Knights and other assorted freaks, Rick Holmes gets some juicy shtick in the roles of Lancelot (who turns out to be very gay), the Taunting French Guard who aims farts and slings verbal brickbats at the invading Round Table guys ("I bust my pimples at you!"), and the Knight of Ni (he and his cohort scream "Niii"). One of the most polished characterizations is Sir Robin, as portrayed by David Turner. Using his slim physique and golden tresses to maximum advantage, Turner makes the incontinent-in-the-presence-of-danger Robin an adorably fey treasure.

Among many production numbers that benefit from the kind of staging only touring shows can accomplish, the best is "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." In it, Robin presents the economic realities of mounting a Broadway extravaganza. As he patiently explains in song: "So listen, Arthur darling, closely to this news/You won't succeed on Broadway/If you don't have any Jews." This singing and dancing spectacle ends with a giant, blinking Star of David lowered from the rafters.

Swerving exuberantly from such showstoppers to the silliest of physical gags (the killer bunny chews off a Knight's head, helmet and all), it all ends in a flurry of happiness as Lancelot marries doe-eyed Prince Herbert ("Just think! In a thousand years this will still be controversial!").

For the uninitiated, the show's title is a spin-off of a classic Python sketch about a restaurant that puts extra Spam in everything, with the waitress repeating "Spam" like a metronome: "We have Spam eggs with Spam, and Spam Spam Spam bacon . . ." As for Spamalot, your laugh-sore sides will still be wanting more by the time the confetti cannons boom.

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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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