You don’t need Broadway sets and costumes and professional credits a mile long to put on a bang-up show, not if you’re the talented team of artists at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center and the show in question is Monty Python’s Spamalot.

644591_10200897835396210_723694371_n 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.

Like the film from which it is “lovingly ripped off,” Monty Python’s Spamalot takes us back to the days of King Arthur (John Dantona) and his quest for The Holy Grail, accompanied by his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise (Andrew Metzger), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Nicholas Ferguson), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Austin Miller) and Sir (Dennis) Galahad the Pure (Nicholas Herbst), 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 (four of whom scored Tony nominations).

With the exception of the one-and-only Dantona, the Simi Valley Spamalot Players are considerably younger than their Broadway counterparts; however, that is about the only way they are “less” than those who’ve played the roles before them, and that goes for Julian Comeau, Stephen Weston, and the divalicious Darienne Lissette stepping into roles created on Broadway by Christian Borle, Michael McGrath, and 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 (Herbst), 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” (Ferguson); 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 Ferguson).

Added to these are musical numbers “He Is Not Dead Yet,” sung by a particularly insistent Not Dead Fred (Comeau); “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 glamorous Lady Of The Lake (Lissette), Spamalot’s very own answer to Cher, 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?).”

SVCAD’s Spamalot is director Sean Harrington’s baby, and whether bringing it to life took a full nine months (or more or less), his talent and dedication to the project are evident in the polished finished result, and most particularly in the all-around smashing performances on the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center stage.

Simi Valley theater vet Dantona adds King Arthur to his long list of credits (including a recent scene-stealing turn as the devil himself in Damn Yankee), a majestically droll performance that anchors the production and allows the 20somethings around him to shine in his orbit.

I absolutely loved English charmer Weston as the ever faithful Sancho to Dantona’s Quijote—sorry, make that Patsy to Dantona’s Arthur, and the same can be said for the triple-threats who bring to life Arthur’s Knights and numerous assorted cameos. (Weston also plays the Finnish village Mayor in the supremely ridiculous “Fisch Schlapping Song” that opens the show, and one of the Swamp Castle guards as well.)

Miller couldn’t be more irresistibly rib-tickling as Sir Robin (and First Sentry, Brother Maynard, and Second Guard). Metzger is a hoot as blustery Sir Bedevere, as Lancelot’s faithful servant Concorde, and (in battleaxe drag) as Sir Dennis Galahad’s dear old Mom (who’s clearly seen last month’s Legally Blonde and knows her Bend-&-Snap). A fabulous Ferguson gives audiences a gay old time as Sir Lance, and also scores laughs aplenty as the French Taunter, the Knight Of Ni, and Tim The Enchanter. Herbst is terrifically amusing as the dashing Sir Dennis Galahad, duetting “The Song That Goes Like This” with Lissette along with his cameo bits as The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s father. As for Comeau, the recent Spring Awakening star may be the youngest of the bunch, but you wouldn’t know it from his irresistible turns as girlyboyish Prince Herbert, the Historian who narrates Spamalot, Not Dead Fred, the taunting French Guard, and more. (Talk about versatility.) Finally, there’s the glamorous, power-voiced, and hysterically funny Lissette, giving every Lady Of The Lake before her a run for her money, and that includes Broadway diva Sara (pronounce that Sodda) Ramirez, who won a Tony for the role.

Ensemble members Jessamyn Arnstein, Sara Gilbert, Kyle Harrington, Cameron Herbst, Jaki Johnson, Christopher Mahr, Rehyan Rivera, and Ally Shultz may some of them still be school age, but they are thorough pros, executing more tracks and donning more costumes and wigs than most performers do in several shows, and that includes roles as The Lady Of The Lake’s backup dancers slash cheerleaders The Laker Girls, along with assorted Knights, Minstrels, Not Dead Soldiers, and more.

Scenie-winning choreographer Becky Castells gives the Knights and other assorted Samalotters plenty of fun-and-fancy footwork to execute, which they do quite nimbly indeed.  Musical director Gary Poirot not only gets his cast vocalizing with the best of them but conducts and play keyboards in the production’s hard-working live orchestra, featuring Mel Bator, Cavit Celayir-Monezis, John Hansen, Kevin Hunt, Lucas Miller, Jodi Morse, Heather Simpson, and Carolyn Wargacki.

Spamalot’s hands-down design star is costumer Ziona Green, who has come up with one winner after another, from Round Table Knight tunics, to Vegas-ready gowns for The Lady Of The Lake, to cheerleader garb, to the white wedding gown in which Comeau’s Prince Herbert looks quite fetching indeed. Harrington’s scenic design may have been put together with a budget one one-zillionth of the Broadway designs (well, perhaps more than that), but it sets the scene and does the trick, and is expertly lit by lighting designer Courtney Johnson. Musical numbers feature a highly professional mix of the cast’s amped voices and the behind-stage orchestra.

Monty Python’s Spamalot is produced by Fred Helsel and David Ralphe. Randon Pool and Jan Carr are costume consultants, Lacey Stewart is technical director, and Seth A. Kamenow and Helsel are propmasters. Sommer Branham and Sharon Gibson are stage managers.

Following the somewhat mixed bag that was the SVCAC’s recent Damn Yankees, it’s a pleasure to report that Monty Python’s Spamalot not only matches the quality of last year’s Hairspray and Pippin, it may well be the best of the bunch. With its blend of traditional musical theater conventions and off-the-wall Monty Python madness, this is one musical that even musical theater naysayers will enjoy every bit as much as their out-and-proud stage queen family members and friends.

Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley.

–Steven Stanley
April 21, 2013

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