POILER ALERT: Readers should hereby be officially put on notice that “This is the review that goes like this…” Those who are in any way familiar with this allusion, doubtlessly also know the Tony Award Winning musical based on Monty Python’s 1975 big-screen comedy “Monty Python And The Holy Grail” titled “Spamalot”. Now those “silly persons” at “3-D Theatricals”–Southern California’s award-winning theater company, are presenting this monumental “Laugh-a-ganza” as their summer offering. Boasting a book by veteran “Pythoner” Eric Idle (who also wrote the lyrics,) the music is by Idle, John Du Prez and Neill Innes, while the production here is directed and choreographed by Carol Bentley (with Billy Sprague Jr. acting as Associate Director and Choreographer,) with Musical Direction by “Sir” David Lamoureux.
An almost supernaturally absurdist retelling of the legend of “Arthur”, “King of the Britons–Lord and Ruler of All”, and his Knights as only the “Monty Python” crew could, “Spamalot” follows this mad-cap Monarch from his initial meeting and recruitment of his comparably mixed-up crew of clueless Cavaliers who will become Knights of “the very, very, very round table”. “I’m looking for men” he tells the guard at a local castle early on; “I had a feeling…” the sentinel answers dryly after looking him over. Eventually he finds: the portly and weirdly wise “Sir Bedevere”, the Show-Tune obsessed “Sir Robin”, the dashingly handsome “Sir Dennis Galahad”, the homicidally brave “Sir Lancelot” and (at least momentarily) “Sir Does Not Appear In This Show”. Upon bumping into (like in the genuine physical sense) none other than the “Almighty” (whose voice is provided by Idle himself,) they head out onto their “sacred” quest for the “Holy Grail”; however, they just may have to settle for a “Holy Hand-grenade” instead—not to mention an unlikely romance or two! Throughout the various misadventures awaiting these hapless heroes are encounters with the mysterious “Lady Of The Lake” (and her frisky flock of “Laker Girls”,) “Ferociously” rude Frenchmen, a ‘Fey-nt hearted’ little Prince in distress (–you read that right), Can-Can dancers, an “Enchanter” named “Tim”, killer rabbits, catapulting cows, and of course, that infamous bunch of (now tap-dancing) “Knights who say ‘Ni” (–keepers of the sacred word, who in turn, dare to demand of our Liege —gasp—a shrubbery!) In grand Broadway tradition, you can bet that by the final curtain, everyone has found their own individual “Grails”, and it all culminates in a big, splashy finale, such as only good ol’ Broadway (or in this case, 3-D Theatricals—who are a far cry from staging “Jr. High School PTA” shows themselves-) can conjure!
Every bit as fun as watching the show is witnessing the audience’s reactions to it. After all, many know and love these references, and happily, the opening night audience in Redondo Beach were counted well among them—everyone good and ready for a good time overflowing with belly-laughs (which they were certainly furnished with!) Idle has deftly managed to set all the inherent nuttiness and over-the-top comedy of “Python’s” humor to music, while also sending-up many of the standard conventions of modern Broadway musicals in their own right. Occasionally, (as in the Films and TV series) many of the actors play several roles—and, in the fine British tradition of the internationally hailed titular comedy troupe, cross-dressing is even employed to delightful comic effect. Along the way, he reminds us in no uncertain terms, exactly how out-and-out wacky much of these long-told and treasured tales surrounding this fabled Monarch fundamentally are.
For example, upon informing “Dennis Galahad” how he came to be king (via the auspices of “The Lady Of The Lake” bestowing upon him the sword “Excalibur”,) the incipient young Knight argues “Soggy old blondes with their backsides in ponds can’t replace the Electorate! You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery ‘tart’ threw a sword at you!” Another notable aspect to Idle’s book is how it doesn’t hesitate to play the various conventions and differences between cinema and stage against one another—mixing them up now and again with tremendous farcical outcomes. “This was England” the narrator booms portentously at the very beginning, only to have the curtains part to reveal a spirited salute in progress, to the country of “Finland” (as if someone in the lighting booth ‘put on the wrong reel’.) This offbeat opening number also knowingly winks at several classic “Python” routines, such as the uproarious “Fish Schlap Dance” and “The Ministry of Silly Walks”—putting us on notice right from the get-go to expect the comically unexpected at every turn!
Carol Bentley’s direction is rivetingly paced and she certainly knows her material and the best way to handle it. This is one show where the first and second acts are roughly the very same length (with a lot of goings-on packed into each) so keeping things hopping is especially gratifying. Not that she over-looks or marginalizes any parts of it either—if anything, small laughs are made bigger, while big laughs achieve even bigger payoffs thanks to her practiced methodology. Also acting as Choreographer, Bentley’s contribution there craftily enables her cast to actually “do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impec-cable!” While much of the movement may not be the most conspicuous (most of it being incorporated to abet the larger comic numbers) they nonetheless get their point across commendably. Starting with that nascent ‘mistaken’ number—the sprightly ode to “Finland” showcases a chorus of brilliantly festooned, apple-cheeked, Finnish moppets joyously “schlapping” away at one another in a bouncy ethnic folk-homage to the country in question. Shortly after, the choreography for her team of “Laker Girls” when they “arise”, is also spot-on, encompassing plenty of high-kicks and even a tumbling “Frog”; then during the “big” first act extravaganza, “Knights Of The Round Table”—a number from the original film that here has been greatly expanded, the court at “Camelot” (accidentally misspelled at one point as “Camel-toe”) is re-envisioned as a luminous cross between a glitzy Vegas showroom and, well, “Heaven’, where the ‘ladies” morph into glamorous “Vegas Vixens” for a sultry send-up of Nevada’s most famous “Sin City”. Into this mix, Bentley also injects a brief but inventive intermezzo between a pair of cavorting clergy: the Monk (danced by Marc C. Reis) and his partner, a not-so-flying Nun (danced by Joe Stein.) Moreover, a fleeting montage illustrating the depth and breadth which the “Knights” are travelling to seek out their prize, allows for the integration of numerous (if abbreviated) International types of terpsichory, while her basic tap combination for the “Knights who say Ni” (as they’re gladly singing through the rain,) virtually amounts to few simple steps and exchanges; even so, performed in unison as part of the thoroughly crowd-pleasing “The Bright Side Of Life” which launches Act Two, it all seems far more substantial and satisfying. Also following the Entre Act, she stages a clever “Fiddle On The Roof” inspired Russian “Bottle Dance”—this time using the Grail in place of the customary Vodka Bottle!
Consistently demonstrating electrifying energy and a contagious brand of enjoyment, it’s apparent that the multi-talented cast are all having an incredible time up there, so the audience can’t help but to have one too! Leading the ‘Quest’ is Martin Kildare as “King Arthur”. By deadpanning many of his reactions, Kildare serves as, if not the one ‘sane’ viewpoint amid a tidal wave of insanity, at least the most stoic one, which essentially notches up the comic pandemonium which he’s perennially surrounded by. This more ‘laid back’ approach also allows him (very fittingly) to be the anchor to everything that’s occurring. Although his singing mostly unfolds in snippets here and there as part of larger musical sequences, he does prevail with his opening declaration “Arthur King Of The Britons”, then again with the eleventh hour “I’m All Alone”. Not to be overlooked either is his significant involvement in “Knights Of The Round Table” (opposite the “Lady Of The Lake”,) then subsequently, in “The Bright Side Of Life”. Another raucously side-splitting episode involves Arthur’s encounter with the fearsome “Black Knight” (played by Nick Tubbs) which has to be seen to be believed (–but for those who remember, it’s just as jolting and hysterical as it was on-screen.) Chelle Denton co-stars as “The Lady Of The Lake”, and what can be said of her performance beyond Wow! (…OK, to be honest, lots more can be said, but let’s say it again to hammer the point home: WOW!!!) Rare are the performers who can sing, move and play comedy with equivalent brilliance—Ms. Denton is definitely to be counted among them. Her preliminary salvo, “Come With Me” is A-Plus, acquainting us with her vivacious personability and–just as importantly, her dynamic voice–each virtual prerequisites for this particular role. Immediately after, her duet with “Sir Galahad” titled “The Song That Goes Like This” is an undisputable winner for them both—leading to thunderous crescendo that –quite literally–produces sparks! Next, as part of the abounding “Knights Of The Round Table” sequence, she takes it down just a notch to unveil her “Inner Eydie Gormé ”, crooning a glitzy “Lounge” rendition of “The Song That Goes Like This” (–and oh, that get-up!) Yet it’s in leading the stirring “Find Your Grail” that Denton truly “raises the roof”, filling the auditorium with her vibrant vocal vigor and dazzling us in the process. It’s one of those exhilarating (but grievously infrequent) theatrical instances when a momentous voice meets an equally momentous lyric as part of a strikingly staged production number. Remarkably, in Act Two she does it all over again with “What Ever Happened To My Part” (whither ‘Our Lady” bemoans being off stage for far too long as the Knights scramble from one half-assed misadventure to the next looking for that damn drinking cup!)
Chief among Arthur’s band of merry “Monty-banks” is Marc Ginsburg as “Sir Lancelot” (“My name is Lancelot”, he informs us at the start; “I’m big and strong and hot! Occasionally I do, some things that I should not!”) Ginsburg’s take here is completely in line with the overall ‘style’ of the show, adroitly discerning when to play it all with earnest seriousness (but not exceedingly so.) Much like “Sir Robin”, the pair don’t really come in to ‘their own” until post-intermission, but when they do, you can expect to be rolling in the aisles! “Lance’s” ultimate interlude of “coming to terms” with his ‘true’ self, called “His Name Is Lancelot” is itself a bona fide crowd pleaser as our hero at last proudly ‘struts his stuff’–awash in a flurry or rainbow-colored lights while surrounded by a bevy of gyrating brightly-clad ‘chorus bois’. Ginsburg also delivers a superbly ‘biting’ turn towards the end of Act One as the Gallic “Taunter” (“I burst my pimples at you and call your door-opening request a silly thing–you cheesy lot of second-hand electric donkey-bottom biters!” he jeers.) Jeff Skowron also makes a major-league impression as “Sir Robin” (—the not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot, who slew the vicious “Chicken of Bristol” and who, we’re further advised, personally wet himself at the Battle Of Baden Hill”.) Interestingly, considering that Idle himself originated the part of “Sir Robin” in the film, when adapting the story for the stage he gave the character some of the show’s very best moments, which Skowron wonderfully takes abundant advantage of! He impresses leading the euphemistically dubbed “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway”, while his assiduously poker-faced reaction to the overtly morbid lyrics of “Brave Sir Robin” (–a ballad performed by the travelling band of Minstrels this “Bravest of the Brave” keeps with him to “ostensibly sing his ‘praises’,) is downright priceless! Skowron also garners some glorious guffaws late in the second act doubling as the prattling “Prior Conventualis”, “Brother Maynard”—keeper of the “Holy Hand-grenade Of Antioch” used in due course to find the grail.
So too, offering a reminiscent cross between Fred Astaire, Kenny Chesney, and Fabio, Nick Tubbs makes for a decidedly debonair “Sir ‘Dennis’ Galahad”. With his vocal introduction taking place early on in the proceedings via the striking duet “The Song That Goes Like This”, it affirms just how incredible a singer he is along with his ability to potently enliven even the most ambiguous refrain. At the entire other end of the spectrum, Tubbs is almost unrecognizable when doling out his share of hilarity as a hot-tempered, avaricious, burly bully of a landowner eager for his mincing-but-mild-mannered, musical-loving son to marry a Princess so he, himself can reap the rewards. (Complicating matters even more is how ‘Dad” can’t stand anything even remotely melodic, let alone hearing his somewhat gender-fluid ‘son’ daring to sing it!) Tyler Stouffer is also responsible for massive quantities of mirth in several parts. In addition to taking on the role of “Sir Bedevere”, he also appears in a few outrageously over the top “drag” personas, among them, the caustic “Mrs. Galahad” (Dennis’ Mother,) and at one pivotal point, an old woman with the much-needed “shrubbery”. Once officially christened the “Knights Of The Round Table”–Galahad, Lancelot, Bedevere and Robin unite with Arthur for some terrific group harmonizing, in praise of…uh,…themselves (to put it bluntly,) with the jocular “All For One”: “Some for some, none for none,” they intone; “slightly less for people we don’t like–and a little bit more for me!”
Likewise appearing in several key roles is 3-D Theatrical’s own Daniel Dawson, who first makes his memorable mark as “Not Dead Fred”—a hapless geezer Lancelot tries to throw—prematurely–onto a “Plague Wagon” already piled high with the deceased, insisting all the while that he’s “not dead yet’ (in fact, he even asserts that he “feels Happy!”) Jumping up, he leads a lively chanson (backed by the other ‘cadavers’ on the wagon, whose own families, ironically, had the very same idea as Lance!) Later, Dawson awes and entrances all over again as the petulant, frothy little Prince, “Herbert” confined in a tower by his boorish father, when all he wants to do is lead a “fabulous” musical number. Done-up like a little Christmas Angel just looking for a tree to sit on, he doesn’t simply shine—he ‘Glows’, handily earning enormous chuckles, chortles and cachinnation–particularly when Lancelot, thinking it’s a fair maiden in distress he’s there to rescue, discovers that in reality it’s our lad, “Herbie”. (Plus, you gotta love a guy who can take a curtain call in a full-length cotton frock and do it so well!) Also creditable is Erik Scott Romney as “Patsy”, Arthur’s “Horse” whose primary task it is to follow his master around clicking two coconuts together to simulate the sound of Horse-hoofs (just don’t ask what they were doing with Coconuts in Medieval England!) Amicably standing-out in a part that by its very inception is meant to be supportive, his “Patsy” climactically gets to “cantor’ into the spot-light with his part in “I’m All Alone”, wherein Romney decisively strikes the mother-lode: “You know it seems quite clear to me–because I’m working class, I am just the ‘Horse’s Ass’!” He laments; “He sells me down the river–so what am I, Chopped-liver?!” (Not at all-and this number helps prove it!)
Featuring the Broadway sets and costumes by Tim Hatley, these Broadway originals are a very good fit for the stage over at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center”, where they might appear as a bit stretched or overextended in a much more protracted house. Correspondingly, Hatley’s innovative costume designs, which similarly recall many from the cinematic version, are fairly colorful for a show set in the supposed “Dark Ages”. These include the flashy, variegated “Calypso” attire that puts the ‘out’ in outfits, displayed in Lance’s big “Disco” sojourn, and the “Lady Of The Lake’s” astonishing Wedding Gown that quickly transforms from Blue to White right before our very eyes! These elements are enhanced by Jean Yves Tessier’s dexterous Lighting Design, coupled with Elaine J. Mc Carthy’s original “Projections” (most of which emulate the animated work of Python’s Terry Gilliam) with additional projections by Andrew Nagy. Indeed, one unforgettable moment coalesces through big billowy shards of light that emanate from the stage out into the auditorium when Arthur at length learns that he’s not only in a Broadway show—but it’s one in which anything can happen, making for a vivid and luminescent ‘punctuation’ to his surprise.
So, if you’re feeling in the dumps—don’t be silly chumps! Who needs ‘killer rabbits” when you have real killer comedy like this? Find your grail–here! Having opened on August 5th, “Monty Python’s Spamalot” will play through Sunday, August 13th, 2017 at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” located at: 1935 E. Manhattan Beach Blvd., in Redondo Beach, California. Showtimes for this engagement are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM (with an additional Saturday Matinee on August 12th at 2:00 PM) and Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. Following this, the show moves to “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” located at 12700 Center Court Drive in Cerritos, California, where it is slated to play for an additional two weekends, from Friday, August 18th through Sunday, August 27th 2017; Showtimes for this engagement are: Friday evenings at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. There will also be an added performance on Thursday, August 24th at 7:30 PM. Tickets for both locations may be purchased on-line by logging onto http://www.3dtshows.org (or, for the Cerritos run, http://www.Cerritoscenter.com as well.) Box Offices for both locations open two hours prior to performances (One hour for Sunday Performances at Cerritos Center.) Group and Student discounts are also available with special “Rush” tickets obtainable one hour prior to “select performances”.
Production Stills by Jesse Ashton Photograph, (www.Jesseashton.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net ) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, Carol Bentley, T.J. Dawson, Daniel Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, Gigi Fusco-Meese, Billy Sprague Jr., David Lamoureux And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2017 Production Of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” For Making This Story Possible