Rare is the musical that can delight and satisfy both Broadway buffs and those who would never be caught dead at My Fair Lady, The Sound Of Music, or heaven forbid, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Monty Python’s Spamalot is that rare Broadway show, and therefore a supremely savvy follow-up to Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s recent Smokey Joe’s Café. That it happens to be served up in an all-around splendid production is like whipped cream on one of Executive Chef Juan Alvarado’s scrumptious desserts.
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 (Raymond Ingram) and his quest for The Holy Grail, accompanied by his Knights of the Round Table: Sir Bedevere the Wise (Robert Hoyt), Sir Lancelot the Brave (Jotapé Lockwood), Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot (Matt Dallal), and Sir Galahad the Pure (Bryan Vickery), 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 Candelight’s team of talented triple-threats do tip-top work each and every one, and that also includes Emerson Boatwright, Adam Trent, and Chelsea Emma Franko 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 (Vickery), 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” (Lockwood); the Knights’ ill-fated attempt to sneak into said castle using a Trojan Rabbit; and the terrifying-yet-hilarious Knights Who Say Ni (led by Knight Of Ni Lockwood).
Added to these are musical numbers “He Is Not Dead Yet,” sung by a particularly insistent Not Dead Fred (Boatwright); “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” (borrowed from Monty Python’s Life Of Brian); and a pair of affectionate Mel Brooksian jabs, one at the Chosen People (“You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews)” and the other at 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 (Franko), 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?).”
Director Chuck Ketter knows his Monty Python every bit as well as he does his Sondheim (having just scored a Best Director Scenie for last year’s Sweeney Todd) and his Spamalot is as bright-and-breezy and outrageously funny as his Sweeney was dark and dramatic.
Actors Equity Guest Artist Ingram has a royal good time being silly as King Arthur and the audience is the beneficiary of his star turn, one which features gorgeous vocals as well.
Trent couldn’t be more adorable as Sancho to Ingram’s Quijote. (Sorry, make that Patsy to Ingram’s Arthur). Dallal is Dallalectable and Dallalightful as Sir Robin (and Brother Maynard). Candlelight regular Hoyt is once again a standout as Sir Bedevere and (most memorably) in battleaxe drag as Sir Dennis Galahad’s dear old Mom.
Vickery performs splendidly as Dashingly Handsome Sir Dennis, duetting “The Song That Goes Like This” with Franko along with his cameo bits as The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s father.
Girlyboyish Prince Herbert is brought to irresistible life by Boatwright, who doubles deliciously as the Historian who narrates Spamalot, Not Dead Fred, and the French Guard, while lanky charmer Lockwood not only gets to be flamboyantly fab as Sir Lance, but aces his cameos as The French Taunter, Knight Of Ni, and Tim The Enchanter.
As for Franko, the L.A. musical theater star-on-the-rise does her most sensational work to date as the scenery-chewing Lady Of The Lake, not only demonstrating bounteous comedic flair but vocal chops in equal abundance, whether in balladic or jazzy or Vegas mode.
Supporting this talented octet are is yet another terrifically multi-talented Candlelight ensemble in more tracks, costumes, and wigs than most performers don in several shows.
They are Marius Beltran (Nun, Minstrel, French Guard), Bert Fulton (French Police, Dancing Monk, Frog), Kevin Gasio (French Guard, Monk), Adrianne Hampton (Laker Girl, Show Girl), Bonnie King (Laker Girl, Eponine), Kylie Molnar (Laker Girl, Minstrel), Jessie Parmelee (Laker Girl, Girl en Pointe, Knight of Ni), Bryan Richardson (Minstrel, French Police), Anne Schoeder (Laker Girl, Knight of Ni), Libby Snyder (Laker Girl, Knight of Ni), Josh Tangermann (Sir Bors, Painter), and Jeffrey Warden (French Guard, Sir Not Appearing).
Janet Renslow recreates Casey Nicholaw’s Tony-nominated choreography with panache, assisted by Carlos Ferrusca. Douglas Austin once again gets top marks as musical director, his cast performing to prerecorded tracks that sound almost live.
Lighting designer Steve Giltner of STEVEGDESIGN lights the production’s colorful uncredited sets and The Theatre Company’s fabulous period and fantasy costumes with accustomed flair, the latter coordinated by Jenny Wentworth and Merrill Grady. Sound engineer Nick Galvan provides crystal-clear amplification and mixing. Wig designer Mary Ward scores high marks too.
Daniel Moorefield and Daniel Bride are stage managers and Orlando Montes technical director.
Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
With its blend of traditional musical theater conventions and off-the-wall Monty Python madness, Spamalot makes for the perfect September treat for musical theater buffs and Monty Python fans alike. And for those who like their Broadway shows dark and dramatic, Jekyll & Hyde is next!
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
September 21, 2104
Photos: John Lalonde