The hills around Solvang will be alive with the sound of laughter over the next several weeks as PCPA Theaterfest presents their couldn’t-be-better, couldn’t-be-funnier production of the 2005 Broadway smash Monty Python’s Spamalot.

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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 (Joseph Cannon) and his quest for The Holy Grail, accompanied by his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise (Leo Cortez), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Erik Stein), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Michael Jenkinson) and Sir Galahad the Pure (George Walker), roles originally played on film by Monty Python legends Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Idle, and Michael Palin. Add to the above PCPA’s Billy Breed, Karin Hendricks, and Paul Henry and you’ve got some of the best performers in Southern California bringing to live this cast of Monty Python zanies.

2spamalot9a Broadway and movie trivia aside, Spamalot recreates in musical theater form 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 (Walker), 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” (Stein); 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 Stein).

Added to these are musical numbers “He Is Not Dead Yet,” sung by a particularly insistent Not Dead Fred (Henry); “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.”

946618_10151816507373628_1791395181_nNew to the Monty Python mix is the divalicious Lady Of The Lake (Hendricks), 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?).”

Michael Barnard directs and Jenkinson choreographs with consummate imagination and flair, the dynamic duo giving us every single Spamalot laugh—and more, aided and abetted by a Broadway-caliber cast of PCPA favorites and summer visitors to beautiful downtown Solvang.

2spamalot15a Bringing to life one of the most famous monarchs in English history (though not quite the same one we’ve met in Lerner & Lowe’s Camelot) is Spamalot vet Cannon, and a more marvelous choice of kings PCPA could not have made, the Arizona-based actor playing Arthur with all the bearing of a royal and tongue decidedly in cheek.

A pair of longtime PCPA favorites stand out among King Arthur’s entourage.

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Stein follows his towering star turn as Tevye in the recent Fiddler On The Roof with about as night-and-day different a track of roles as any actor could possibly dream of. Not only is Stein clearly having the time of his life as the outrageously gay Sir Lance, he scores laugh after laugh as The French Taunter, Knight Of Ni, and Tim The Enchanter as well. (I’d like to see any other ex-Inspector Javert do that!)

Then there’s the ever radiant Hendricks, scarcely recognizable as the same actress who played Stein’s demure daughter Tzeitel in Fiddler. Hendricks’ diva to end all divas simply could not be more divalicious, whether duetting the power ballad to end all power ballads or lamenting how little stage time she’s allotted in Act Two in “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened To My Part?)”

The quintet of PCPA regulars starring alongside Cannon, Stein, and Hendricks are a Fab Five if ever there was one.

2spamalot16a Breed makes for a deliciously droll Sancho to Cannon’s Quijote. (Sorry, make that Patsy to Cannon’s Arthur). Jenkinson is a thorough delight as Sir Robin (and Brother Maynard). Cortez is a hoot and a half as Sir Bedevere and (most memorably) in battleaxe drag as Sir Dennis Galahad’s dear old Mom. Walker shines in multiple roles—most particularly as the Dashingly Handsome Sir Dennis, duetting “The Song That Goes Like This” and proving his versatility in cameo bits as The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s father. Henry does bang-up work in some of Spamalot’s funniest and most diverse roles—as girlyboyish Prince Herbert, the Historian who narrates Spamalot, Not Dead Fred, and the French Taunter’s Best Friend.

2spamalot5a Supporting these eight stellar triple-threats is a young and supremely talented ensemble executing more tracks, costumes, and wigs than most performers don in several shows, and doing so without seeming to break a sweat. They are Luscious Laker Girls Casey Canino, Deborah Fauerbach, Catie Marron, Marisa Martinez, Kelly McGaw, and Katie Wackowski and Awesome Arthur Boys Patrick Anderson, Steven Jasso, Zach Johnson, Tony Kupsick (Head Minstrel), Edgar Lopez, and Christopher George Patterson. Swings Anderson, Amanda Farbstein, and Krysta Michelle Smith are poised to go on in ensemble tracks at a moment’s notice, as Anderson did at the performance reviewed for an indisposed Lucas Blair. Understudies Blair, Johnson, Kupsick, Marron, Derek Rubiano, and Toby Tropper cover Spamalot’s eight leading players.

2spamalot8a Jenkinson’s choreography is as stunningly original as ever, with clever tips-of-the-hat to Jerome Robbins, Michael Bennett, and Bob Fosse, and executed to perfection by the young, super-energetic cast.

Musical director Callum Morris once again does an impressive job of coaxing the best possible vocal performances from leads and ensemble, along with conducting a fourteen-piece orchestra you’d think was live if I didn’t tell you they’re prerecorded.

2spamalot11a Frederick B. Deeben scores highest marks for his fabulous collection of costumes, particularly following the earth-toned shtetlwear he created for Fiddler. DeAnne Kennedy’s scenic design once again makes colorful, ingenious use of the Solvang Festival Theater’s thrust stage. Jennifer ‘Z’ Zornow’s lighting design is another terrific one from the PCPA regular. Elisabeth Rebel’s sound design mixes vocals and instrumentals to perfection. Kitty Balay scores points for her expert dialect coaching. Jaimie L. Johnson is stage manager.

It wouldn’t be summer for this reviewer without a couple of road trips up to picturesque Solvang for musical theater under the stars. There may be other Spamalots closer to home, now or in the months ahead, but getting to see this Broadway hit as only PCPA can do it makes the journey north well worth the ride.

Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd Street, Solvang.

–Steven Stanley
July 23, 2013
Photos: Luis Escobar Reflecations Photography Studio

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