Someone once told me, perhaps in jest, that laughing heartily is actually a good abdominal workout. While I'm still looking for my six-pack to miraculously emerge much like the long-missing holy grail, I am pretty damn sure I got lots of crunches in while watching Musical Theatre West's hilarious regional premiere of the Tony-winning musicAl Monty Python's SPAMALOT. Full of silly humor and absurdist gags that will have you laughing throughout the show, MTW's latest top-notch production plays at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through July 15.
One of the most amusing shows MTW has ever mounted, there are lots—and I mean Spamalots (sorry)—to love about this impressive, entertaining show. Aside from the jolly-good score by John Du Prez and Eric Idle (the latter of whom also wrote the joke-heavy book for the musical), MTW's impressive production, helmed by MTW's own artistic director Steven Glaudini, repurposes the very same original sets, costumes, and animated projections that were featured on the Tony-winning Broadway hit. And, as to be expected, the show employs an absolutely amazing, hard-working ensemble cast—many of whom take on multiple, distinctively memorable roles.
But perhaps this 2005 Best Musical Tony winner's strongest asset is, really, its comic origins. Proudly touting itself as a musical "lovingly ripped-off" from the cult hit film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, SPAMALOT is a conveyor belt of some of the funniest, most well-known bits from the movie, as well as from a few other madcap vignettes found in other Monty Python movies and their popular British TV series The Flying Circus.
The musical is much like a cult-baiting buffet of the infamous comedy troupe's unique brand of out-there humor. Though prior knowledge of their oeuvre isn't necessary to enjoy the show, it certainly helps. You will find yourself surrounded by grown men giddy over the familiar sight of King Arthur and his trusty footman galloping the countryside sans horses (but with two hollow coconuts clicked together to produce horse hooves sounds). Or how about the gigantic forest Knights that say "Ni" demanding a shrubbery? And let's not forget the insanity of seeing flying cows, a ravenous bunny, a vulgar, taunt-filled Frenchman, and, of course, the giant feet of the Almighty Himself (who appears in the form of a pair of giant, rocket-powered feet as seen in many Monty Python's sketches). They've even made room for new sight-gags: What about a whiz-bang production number in a Vegas-y Camelot or in a lake featuring cheer-chanting "Lake-r" girls?
The plot is, natch, not really that important—though, it should be noted, that the lack of a solid one doesn't at all take away from the show's comedic brilliance. Here's all you really need to know: England is plagued by, well, The Plague. Arthur—King of the Britons (played with delicious charm by Davis Gaines)—sets out to recruit knights throughout his Kingdom to bring some kind of order to all the chaos. They will all eventually sit at the Round Table at Camelot.
Accompanied by his servant and coconut-tapper Patsy (Jamie Torcellini), his travels yield a few, uh, interesting candidates: the dashing Sir Galahad (Dan Callaway), the oft-scared Sir Robin (Larry Raben), the confused Sir Lancelot (Zachary Ford), and the portly Sir Belvedere (Danny Stiles). Cheered on by the divalicious Lady of the Lake (the über-fantastic Tami Tappan Damiano), the newly-formed team is assigned a quest by God himself: locate the infamous, "misplaced" Holy Grail. Along the way, they have run-ins with bitchy taunters, murderous villains, and even bouts of self-doubt.
A show rife with cheesy-clever puns, non-sensical absurdities, and side-splitting meta self-awareness, SPAMALOT revels in its unapologetic silliness and its way of lovingly making fun of the conventions of the Broadway musical. You can really tell that the cast is having fun with this material, as they should.
Even if you don't necessarily "get" this kind of dry, very British humor, you will laugh your (hopefully not soiled) arses off at all the weird silliness. The whole show is pure fun… just because.