Spamalot tasty at times, moldy around the edges

By - Dec 12th, 2010 01:12 am
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Steve McCoy as King Arthur and Caroline Bowman as the Lady of the Lake. Photo courtesy of Spamalot website.

“We eat ham, and jam and Spam a lot,” a line from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, inspired the title of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Yes, it’s that silly.

The Spamalot 2010 tour stopped at the Milwaukee Theatre for three performances Friday and Saturday (Dec. 10-11). Much of the musical comedy is, as the producers readily admit, “lovingly ripped off” from the movie. But the show also rips familiar stage productions, including Les Misèrables and Phantom of the Opera, in the context of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Eric Idle, a Python charter member, wrote the musical’s book and lyrics, and John Du Prez wrote the music. Spamalot won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, for the 2004-2005 season.

The non-Equity cast in this second national tour, uses the same impressive sets and extravgant costumes as the first national tour. The cast includes Steve McCoy as King Arthur, Caroline Bowman as the Lady of the Lake, Adam Grabau as Lancelot, Jacob L. Smith as Galahad, Matt Ban as Sir Bedevere/Dennis’s Mother, Glenn Giron as Patsy, Martin Glyer as Robin, Thomas DeMarcus as The Historian, and John Garry as Not Dead Fred/Prince Herbert and numerous others.

For what it’s worth, they pull off a good show. Caroline Bowman is fun as the Lady of the Lake, and her voice is magnificent. Steve McCoy is a fine King Arthur and pairedneatly with Glenn Giron as Patsy, his servant. They’re lively and hit that Monty Python way of blending semi-dead pan with mock Broadway uber-drama. The other leads and the ensemble are a mixed bag. Some seemed immersed in the frivolity while others performed mechanically. The latter is often a problem with touring productions, especially when the accompaniment is mostly recorded. Spamalot’s live band comprises just two keyboards and four brass players, with the rest of the orchestration pre-recorded. That kills spontaneity and gives the show a going-through-the-motions resignation.

Still, Spamalot is colorful, energetic, and entertaining in an awkward way, with copious puerile, eye-rolling humor. Python fans wait for familiar bits — the Knights of Nii, for example. (Which goes on a bit long in this show.) Jokes in the Mel Brooks manner pop up occasionally, including some offensive Jew and gay jokes. Audiences are easily amused at the expense of others.  The Jewish thing worked in New York, where a large Jewish population is ready to laugh at itself. In Milwaukee, not so much.

Spamalot’s running joke that Sir Lancelot believes his quest involves freeing a captive princess. She turns out to be Prince Herbert. That prompts Lancelot to come out of the closet to marry him. The gay marriage gag concludes with a line “to think this will still be controversial one thousand years from now.”

In Wisconsin, this particular truth, depending on your persuasion, isn’t quite a knee slapper any more.

Categories: Theater

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