Story: Lampooning the hallowed Arthurian legend, Monty Python’s Spamalot details in irreverent fashion the story of England’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and how they might have come to be.
Highlights: First produced in 2004, Monty Python’s Spamalot proved to be an enormously popular venture on Broadway, running for four years and more than 1,600 performances. Eric Idle, an original member of the six-player Python comedy troupe, conceived the idea of transferring their popular 1975 movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to the stage.
Idle also wrote the show’s book and lyrics, as well as some of its music with co-composer John Du Prez. Some additional tunes were penned by Python contributor Neil Innes.
Mike Isaacson, executive director of The Muny, beseeched the season’s opening-night audience on Monday evening to excuse any ragged edges in the production, which lost precious rehearsal time to unruly storms that swept through the area for several days.
While a glitch here and there was noticeable, Isaacson’s worries were put to rest by a wonderfully manic presentation under the witty direction of Denis Jones, who crafted last year’s memorable rendition of Chicago, and who also provided the show’s vastly entertaining and imaginative choreography.
Additionally, the enthusiastic crowd was treated to a post-show delight when star John O’Hurley welcomed Idle himself to the stage for a surprise visit. Idle referenced that The Muny’s production was the first outdoor performance ever of Spamalot and also played before its largest-ever audience. Nod, nod, wink, wink.
Other Info: Not that Spamalot is flawless. As with many of the Python’s legendary parodies, a joke can be beaten to death with endless repetition, as is the case when Prince Herbert’s father repeatedly explains instructions to a pair of inebriated and dim-witted guards at his castle. Very funny at first, not so much on the seventh trip around the track.
There also was an opening-night problem with the LED screen in the background. Perhaps it will be rectified for subsequent performances, but the screen wasn’t elevated. As a result it frequently was blocked from view by various elements in Steve Gilliam’s whimsically cartoonish scenic design. When it could be seen, Nathan Scheuer’s projection designs successfully recalled Python animator Terry Gilliam’s inspired wackiness.
All in all, though, this Spamalot, a first for The Muny, is clever and consistently funny, as it brings to mind many of the manic moments from the film. It also featured an updated book that makes coy, topical references to Honey Boo-Boo and Mike Matheny as well as clever send-ups of Andrew Lloyd Webber, West Side Story and other Broadway staples.
Costume coordinator and designer Leon Dobkowski must have worked triple-time to come up with the panoramic array of colorful togs featured in widely disparate numbers such as the opening Finnish bit, the Las Vegas intro to Camelot, Sir Lancelot’s revelatory walk on the wild side and others. Seth Jackson’s lighting is resplendent, Jason Krueger’s sound design amusing and Ben Whiteley’s musical direction disciplined apart from a renegade cymbalist who challenges Arthur.
O’Hurley, familiar to millions as the wry J. Peterman on the Seinfeld TV series but forever known to aficionados of The X Files as the mad scientist father on the whimsical black and white episode, The Post-Modern Prometheus, as well as the voice of The Arch on local radio, is eminently successful in guiding a crazy clutch of colleagues as the noble, if often ignored, King Arthur.
O’Hurley is quick with an ad lib and glib with his earnest approach to the role, making a fine foil for upstarts such as David Hibbard as his trusty steed Patsy (channeling Marty Feldman), John Scherer as the entertainment-motivated Sir Robin, Chris Hoch as the blood-thirsty Sir Lancelot, Ben Davis as the bickering Sir Galahad and Tally Sessions as the confused Sir Bevedere.
Michele Ragusa is a stitch as the street-smart Lady of the Lake, doing her best Sarah Brightman impression on The Diva’s Lament, and Bob Costas has a taped cameo as the voice of God, no doubt having learned under the tutelage of his former boss at KMOX, the late Robert Hyland.
So many great scenes from the film are re-enacted, such as the witty number, I Am Not Dead Yet, or the opening number, Python Michael Palin’s Fisch Schlapping Song set in Finland to the consternation of our historian (Kevin Cahoon). There’s Arthur’s confrontation with The Black Knight (Davis), who bellows “It’s just a flesh wound” after losing his limbs, and the infamous French Taunter (Hoch), who catapults a cow onto the Brits after their failed Trojan Rabbit ploy.
It’s crazy and crass and callous and calculated, but Idle’s fractured humor nearly always hits the mark, taking aim at gays and straights, Christians and Jews, Broadway and Las Vegas, show business and politics. And, if you’re offended by any particular number, simply take his advice and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
Musical: Monty Python’s Spamalot
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through June 23
Tickets: From free to $80; contact 534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Larry Pry/The Muny