By Jim Cryns
Like so many great comedy sketches, Monty Python’s antics tend to have an incredible life-span. From rather humble beginnings on PBS back in the ‘70s as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the Python empire has churned out some of the most enduring cult hits of our time, including Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was “lovingly ripped off” for Broadway three years ago in Spamalot.
The production at the Marcus Center, part of Milwaukee’s Broadway Across America series (now – May 4), has something up its sleeve for everyone. If you know the films, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s coming, and I mean that in a good way. Spamalot is a hit with both women and men, a rarity where most musicals traditionally draw women.
The loose plot follows King Arthur has he attempts to round up a cast of suitable knights to assist him in his quest for the Holy Grail: Sir Lancelot, Galahad and the timid and trouser-fouling Sir Robin.
Tony Award winner Gary Beach is King Arthur, and you never get the feeling that Beach is a stage-glomming prima donna. He’s very giving onstage and present throughout the performance, save for a brief respite during the gay Galahad number. Brad Bradley, also a member of the original Broadway cast, says he loves his character Patsy: “He’d truly die for the king,” Bradley says, “and that’s an amazing quality. Patsy is dedicated, selfless, he truly cares.”
Bradley admits the Python humor went over his head in high school, but he made up for lost time in college. “People come into the theater excited, even before the show starts.”
Familiar scenes from the movie come to life on the stage: the Trojan rabbit worked to perfection, as did the cow over the castle wall and blood-thirsty rabbit. Monks cross the stage chanting while smashing themselves in the head with wooden boards. You’ll see King Arthur defeat the Black Knight by cutting off his arms and legs, and in the “dark and very expensive forest” where the crew meets the Knights who say Ni, Patsy delivers one of the most popular Python bits, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Bradley says numbers are cut from shows with regularity. “They cut the ‘lighter than a duck’ scene from the play, and that was kind of depressing.” Part of the convention of Python is different roles played by the same actors. Bradley says producers have to ‘kill their babies’ periodically and take out songs and bits that take up too much time or ultimately don’t mesh with the tempo of the show. “It’s their job to know what works best,” Bradley concedes.
The show recently finished six weeks in Florida before moving on to Alabama. It’s as much musical as comedy, a loving spoof of Broadway shows with new material written all the time to accommodate the city in which it’s playing. Toward the end of the show in Milwaukee, King Arthur summoned up a young woman who had the Grail stashed under her seat in the theater. Once onstage, the woman seamlessly became part of the show for a few joyful minutes. The cast truly seemed to be enjoying themselves, and their spirit was contagious in lots of glittering Vegas-type scenes in Arthur’s court.
I had been looking forward to this production for a while and it never gave me reason to regret the anticipation. If they had somehow decided to start the show from the top at the end of the performance, I would have gladly settled into my seat to ride the rollercoaster once more. The show will be moving on to Madison, WI, in the near future. VS