MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT (National Tour)Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Direction Recreated by BT McNicholl
Musical Director/Conductor ? Nolan Bonvouloir
Original Scenic and Costume Design ? Tim Hatley
Scenic Design Modifications ? James Kronzer
Lighting Design ? Mike Baldassari
Sound Design ? Craig Cassidy
Projection Design ? Elaine McCarthy
Choreography Recreated by Scott Taylor
Choreographer ? Casey Nicholaw
CAST in order of appearance
Joe Beuerlein ? Historian, French Guard, Minstrel, Brother Maynard
Thomas DeMarcus ? Mayor, Dennis' Mother, Sir Bedevere, Concorde
Michael J. Berry ? Patsy, Guard 2
Arthur Rowan ? King Arthur
Kasidy Devlin ? Sir Robin, Guard 1
Adam Grabau ? Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, King Ni, Tim the Enchanter
James David Larson ? Not Dead Fred, Nun, Prince Herbert
Jacob L. Smith ? Sir Dennis Galahad, Black Knight, Prince Herbert's Father
Brittany Woodrow ? The Lady of the Lake
Eric Idle ? God
Ensemble ? Kimber Benedict, Jason Elliott Brown, Ryan Cowles, Carl DeForrest
Hendin, Amanda Johns, Andrew Leggieri, Melissa Denise Lopez, McKayla Marso,
Jesse Palmer, Tiffani Robbins, Jared Titus, Bradley Allan Zarr
Nolan Bonvouloir ? Conductor/Piano
Patrick Burns ? Associate Conductor/Ke
Reviewed Performance: 2/7/2012
Reviewed by Mary L. Clark, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I am also proud to be a Dallasite, as our very own PBS television station, KERA, was the first to broadcast Monty Python's Flying Circus in the United States. Their first Chief Executive, Bob Wilson (father to Owen and Luke Wilson) had a vision for the then burgeoning community television network. Officially MP's `Flying Circus' began airing in October 1974, but KERA's Vice-President of Programming, Ron Devillier, was so eager that he jumped the gun and started broadcasting the episodes earlier that summer.
It aired late at night and I remember staying up to watch them after my parents had gone to bed. The show was an instant hit and literally paved the way for many, many other BBC comedy shows to make their way across the pond and into our homes. American humor and comedy would never be the same, thank goodness.
For the uninitiated, Monty Python humor, and for that matter, the humor of the six comedians, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, was rather controversial. They lampooned most everything, but especially Britain's history and culture, sex ("Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more."), politics, and religion ("Did someone say The Spanish Inquisition?").
Their films continued the tradition of `Flying Circus' and were equally as controversial. Their second one, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the basis for the musical Spamalot. The third film, Life of Brian, enraged fundamentalist Christians who campaigned to get it banned, rendering it, of course, a huge hit. Fans understood and enjoyed their intelligent and thought-provoking satire and humor.
However, as with most unique and highly inventive things, culture shifts and people's tastes shift as well. Most of Monty Python's group went on to other interests. But Python continues on in the many references found worldwide. The true geeks of the universe, computer scientists, took the now commonly used word `spam' straight from a Python sketch, and the programming language, `Python' is directly stolen. The group even made the dictionary. `Pythonesque' is defined as "of humour, bizarre and surreal". That pretty much sums it up.
Of all the members, Eric Idle has kept Monty Python alive in the form of live concert tours entitled Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python, and The Greedy Bastard Tour, his website PythOnline, records and several books.
The musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, is "lovingly ripped off from the motion picture" Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Eric Idle wrote the book and lyrics, and collaborated with John DuPrez on most of the music. With songs titled "Fisch Slapping Dance", "I'm Not Dead Yet", "Whatever Happened to My Part", and "Run Away", MP fans should be well sated.
The musical previewed in Chicago in 2004, opened on Broadway in 2005, and won three out of its record-breaking 14 Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for Sara Ramirez (of Grey's Anatomy), and Best Direction of a Musical for Mike Nichols. It had a gob-smacking initial run of over 1,500 performances and was seen by over two million people.
Spamalot takes its name from a funny line in the movie, "we eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot". Not being able to write it better myself, this musical "tells the legendary tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and features a bevy (or possible a brace) of beautiful show girls, witch burnings (cancelled, too expensive), not to mention cows, killer rabbits and French people". The musical also has rapid fire one-liners or bits of songs parodying musical theatre heavies such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Peter Allen, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Les Miserables, Company, and Man of La Mancha. No one and nothing is sacred.
Amazingly, Spamalot first started here in the U.S., then went to London's West End, toured both here and the U.K., and then around the world. Returning to the Bass Hall in Fort Worth, the current U.S. tour has been traveling quickly around the country since last September. The show has come through the area several times, but from the laughter, whoops, hollers and whistles that came from the audience on Bass Hall's opening night, the interest and love for this show hasn't diminished one bit.
It was amusing to walk into the classically beautiful Bass Hall to the tune of John Philip Sousa's march "The Liberty Bell", the Monty Python's Flying Circus theme song (go ahead, you know you want to hum it!) and set the tone for the fun to come.
Spamalot ran a tight ship with all but two of the ten main actors playing more than one role. Ten ensemble members were wonderful singers, dancers and astounding quick-change artists, playing all the many other roles. Six musicians made up the "orchestra". In a little over two hours, this high-energy group sailed through 20 scenes and 21 songs with reprises. Several in the audience and I chorused the more famous lines with the actors, and sang and whistled along with "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". The evening was meant for laugh-out-loud comedy, and when was the last time a show freed and even encouraged one to do just that?
For those not familiar with MP's grail tale, any detailed synopsis would only confuse, and I don't think you'd believe me anyway! In a poor attempt to summarize, King Arthur of Camelot fame sets out to fill the chairs around his Round Table, picking up some odd characters along the way whom he knights. Summoned by God, their journey turns into a quest to find the Holy Grail.
Castles, "expensive" forests, evil knights, and monstrous creatures come into play, with attempts to produce a Broadway show thrown in the mix. It's a silly show, ok?! Happy and hilarious endings ensue, and everyone onstage and in the audience sings at the end. What's not to love?
Few were spared the comedy sword, with swings at the poor, the rich, gays, Jews, Finnish people, historians, Catholics and many more (my favorite line comes from Patsy, King Arthur's servant, when asked by him why he didn't say he was half Jewish: "It's not the sort of thing you say to a heavily-armed Christian").
Set pieces flew in and out, were amateurishly (on purpose) pushed on or pulled off, and as originally designed by Tim Hatley, were low budget in their appearance only. Hatley paid great homage to Python's Terry Gilliam and his comic book-drawn, cut and paste graphics ? big feet came down from the heavens though no one got squashed this time. Elaine McCarthy's projections were overlaid on set pieces and the moving, storybook drawings brought out the film aspects of this stage musical.
I must applaud the costumers and backstage dressers for their diligence in caring for and getting their actors onstage on cue. I had never seen so many completely different, difficult to wear costumes, and so many quick changes since Greater Tuna. Many times, an actor entered in full costume, stood there or walked across the stage, and then was gone, and this happened time and time again. Also originally designed by Tim Hatley, these costumes were colorful, hilarious, over the top, and completely Pythonesque. As designed by Mike Baldassari, plenty of boldly-colored shafts of light, follow spots, and lightening flooded the stage, adding even more over-the-top comedic effects.
The musicians, under the direction and conducted by Nolan Bonvouloir, might have been small in number but were mighty in sound ? playing only keyboards and brass. They "heralded" the Holy Grail fairy tale, and were funniest when they made great use of that old comedy bit - someone yells for the music to stop and the horns slowly die down, off key. All hokey, all fun.
Those ten ensemble members were indispensable in moving the story along and supporting the leading and featured actors and actress. King Arthur, coincidentally played by Arthur Rowan, was all royal bluster and false bravado, comically so. I don't know why the role of The Lady of the Lake was categorized as a Featured Actress for Tony nominations because this character more than supported the storyline, and Brittany Woodrow, as this tour's Lady, commanded her every moment onstage, physically and vocally. Her powerful vocals filled the theatre and I know was heard by every single person on those back rows. I did question her lighting cues as they clipped her ending lines short, losing those final poses and diminishing her character's strength as she quickly ran out of the light and off stage. Actually there were several times where just a second or two more to end a scene or line would have made a huge difference in the audience's "capture" of the joke or humor.
My favorite characters in the movie, and therefore in Spamalot, are Patsy, the coconut shell-clapping servant to the king, The French Taunter, King Ni (of the "Knights who say `Ni'"), and Tim the Enchanter. These are all played by two actors ? Michael J. Berry and Adam Grabau. Berry's Patsy was altogether comical, pathetic, and endearing, and he understood the art of the "second banana". Along with the newly "sexually awakened" Sir Lancelot, Grabau's Frenchman ("I fart in your general direction"), Ni and Tim personified all that is wonderful about Monty Python. He had the good fortune to portray characters that brought out the most in-unison script lines from the audience such as "We want a . . . . .shrubbery!".
So many other memorable characters from MP's HG came alive again onstage ? "I'm not dead yet" Fred, the severely body part-reduced Black Knight, and others. Even John Cleese had a part as the pre-show cell phone announcer, and Eric Idle had a cameo as God.
To enjoy this musical properly, you must go with a child-like heart and mind, open to the story, the spectacle, the joy in laughing out loud, the fun, and the wonder that is Monty Python's Spamalot. The actors are having the time of their life onstage and you have the power to do the same. As you enter the glass doors of Bass Hall, gently set your "adult" cares and inhibitions to the side, like a wet umbrella. Allow yourself to giggle and laugh at the silliness, root for the "good guys", sing along, and simply let yourself go. You can always pick up that wet umbrella on your way back to the real world ? or maybe just "forget" and leave it behind. I won't tell.
And Now For Something Completely Different. . . . . . . . .
**SPAM is a registered trademark of Hormel Food LLC**
Performing Arts Fort Worth
Broadway at the Bass Series
Bass Hall, 4th and Calhoun Streets, Fort Worth, TX 76102
Plays This Week Only ? through February 12th
Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 7:00pm, and Saturday/Sunday matinees at 2:00pm.
Tickets are $22.00 - $82.50, depending on the performance day and seating. There is accessible handicap seating and group sales are available.
For information and to purchase tickets, go online to www.basshall.com and follow the links to Spamalot.
You may also call the Bass Hall Box Office at 817-212-4280 or toll-free at 1-877-212-4280.