It’s taken eight long years for Monty Python’s Spamalot to go from its preview engagement in Chicago to its Regional Premiere at Long Beach’s Musical Theatre West, but in the case of the one-of-a-kind Spamalot, the resulting production proves well worth the wait. Using the original Broadway sets, costumes, and choreography (but in all other respects building its production “from the ground up”), MTW gives Los Angeles-area audiences abundant reasons to celebrate Spamalot’s long-awaited arrival.

 Based on the 1975 cult movie classic Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Spamalot ran an impressive 1574 performances in its original four-year Broadway run, due in part to the enthusiastic Monty Python fan base (many of whom were likely seeing their first Broadway show ever) and in even greater measure to the musical itself. With an absolutely hilarious book by Eric Idle, sing-alongable songs by John Du Pres, Idle, and Neil Innes, and showcase roles for an octet of star performers, Spamalot is quite literally in a class by itself, and likely to expand upon Musical Theatre West’s subscriber base in record-breaking fashion.

Like the film from which it is “lovingly ripped off,” Monty Python’s Spamalot takes us back to the days of King Arthur (Davis Gaines) and his quest for The Holy Grail, accompanied by his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise (Danny Stiles), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Zachary Ford), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Larry Raben) and Sir Galahad the Pure (Dan Callaway), roles originally played on film by Monty Python legends Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Idle, and Michael Palin, and on Broadway by Tim Curry, Steve Rosen, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, and Christopher Sieber (all but Rosen of whom scored Tony nominations). Clearly, all of the above are tough acts to follow, but MTW’s cast of Broadway and regional theater vets prove themselves more than up to the task—and then some, as do Richard Israel, Jamie Torcellini, and Tami Tappan Damiano (stepping into roles created on Broadway by Christian Borle, Michael McGrath, and Tony winner Sara Ramirez).

Broadway and movie trivia aside, Spamalot brings to song-and-dance life many of the classic comedy sequences that have made the original Monty Python film a hit for nearly four decades now. There’s Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight (Callaway), who ends up about as limbless as a man can get without saying “uncle”; the Franglais insults launched on Arthur by an obnoxious “French Taunter” (Ford); the Knights’ ill-fated attempt to sneak into said castle using a Trojan (not Horse but) Rabbit; and the terrifying yet hilarious Knights Who Say Ni (led by Knight Of Ni Ford).

Added to these are musical numbers “He Is Not Dead Yet,” sung by a particularly insistent Not Dead Fred (Israel); “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” (from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian); and a pair of affectionate Mel Brooksian jabs at the Chosen People (“You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)” and the Fabulous People (“His Name Is Lancelot”), the latter ditty extolling the virtues of the Round Table Knight who “likes to dance a lot … and in hot pants a lot …bats for the other team.”

 New to the mix is the divalicious Lady Of The Lake (Damiano), whose “The Song That Goes Like This” spoofs every Broadway power ballad ever written, just as “Find Your Grail” does to every single rousing anthem ever sung on a Broadway stage. And speaking of show-stoppers, they don’t come any more show-stopping than the LOTL’s “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened To My Part?).”

Broadway legend (and once-again recent Tony Award winner) Mike Nichols’ shoes are big ones to fill, but fill them director Steven Glaudini does, and then some, managing one of the biggest and most complex shows in MTW history as he coaxes award-worthy performances from his galaxy of stars.

 The usually serious Gaines has a field day being silly as King Arthur, with a couple of added “ad libs” referencing the Broadway star’s recent MTW turn as Don Quijote in Man Of La Mancha and his signature role in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera. Needless to say, Gaines’ vocal chops are as stellar as the comedic ones he displays here.

Torcellini is as delightful as can be as Sancho to Gaines’ Quijote. (Sorry, make that Patsy to Gaines’ Arthur). The inimitable Raben creates a marvelous Sir Robin (and Brother Maynard). Stiles makes a welcome return to L.A. following three (count’em) Broadway shows in a row as Sir Bedevere and (most memorably) in battleaxe drag as Sir Dennis Galahad’s dear old Mom. As for Galahad himself, romantic leading man Callaway has great fun (as does the audience) with his Dashingly Handsome Sir Dennis, duetting “The Song That Goes Like This” with Damiano along with his cameo bits as The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s father. Girlyboyish Prince Herbert is brought to deliciously delicate life by busy stage director Israel, making a rare(ish) stage appearance as not only Herbert but also as the Historian who narrates Spamalot, Not Dead Fred, and the French Guard—and reinventing funny along the way. And while we’re on the topic of funny, no one gets more laughs in Spamalot than Ford, who not only gets to be flamboyantly fab as Sir Lance, but delights as The French Taunter, Knight Of Ni, and Tim The Enchanter as well.

 And then there is Damiano, making the most newsworthy return to the stage of this or any year in the role that won her Broadway predecessor the Tony and ought to win Damiano every L.A. award in the book. Having a field day as the scenery-chewing Lady Of The Lake (and clearly loving every minute of it), Damiano once again shows off quite possibly the best Broadway pipes in town in songs which showcase her vocal dexterity, whether in balladic or jazzy or Vegas mode—and she looks more gorgeous than ever. (Please don’t make us wait years for your next stage role, Tami!)

Supporting these eight stars are a supremely multi-talented ensemble in more tracks, costumes, and wigs than most performers don in several shows, and demonstrating Broadway-ready triple-threat gifts each and every one. They are Jebbel Arce, John Paul Batista, Kathryn Burns, Nikki Della Penta, Brad Fitzgerald, Ashley Matthews, Madison Mitchell, Daniel May, Neil Starkenberg, Clay Stefanki, Matthew J. Vargo, and Carly Wielstein.

Billy Sprague, Jr. recreates Casey Nicholaw’s Tony-nominated choreography to perfection. Musical director extraordinaire John Glaudini conducts the sensational MTW pit orchestra. Steven Young lights Tim Hatley’s Broadway sets and costumes quite gorgeously indeed, the latter of which are coordinated by Claire Townsend. Julie Ferrin’s sound design is, as always, impeccable. Wig designer Mark Travis Hoyer and Broadway projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy both score high marks as do ZFX Flying Effects and J.S. Marsh Special Effects. Kevin Clowes is technical director, Shawn Pryby stage manager, and Mary Ritenhour assistant stage manager and production manager.

With its blend of traditional musical theater conventions and off-the-wall Monty Python madness, Spamalot makes for the perfect July treat for both musical theater buffs and Monty Python fans alike, and ends Musical Theatre West’s 59th season on a high note indeed.

Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
June 30, 2012
Photos: Alysa Brennan

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