Monty Python is a comedy dynasty that seems destined to keep finding fresh converts to the team’s British, satirical, absurd and smart humor, beginning with their beloved and innovative BBC sketch comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ran 1969 to 1974.
When the show went off the air, the team of Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese and Michael Palin made the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Like the TV series, it turned cult classic, a brilliant farce of the King Arthur legend made up of daft sketches with cow catapults and cherished lines like “We are the knights who say ‘Ni!’”
After a long, varied post-Python career in comedy, Eric Idle wrote the book (the story), lyrics and co-wrote the music with John Du Prez for the 2004 musical Spamalot, a “new musical lovingly ripped off” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was a surprise success, winning three Tonys (of 14 nominations) and playing Broadway for 1,500 shows.
PacRep ends 2012 with Spamalot – the title taken from the line sung in the movie, “We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot” – and it’s a brisk two-hour, lighthearted, Dark Ages-era, Anglophile-centric, musical-skewering geeky pleasure directed with zeal by PacRep founder Stephen Moorer.
It opens with a historian (Keith Decker) orienting the audience to the setting of medieval England, then an opening musical number in which Finnish villagers sing and dance the “Fisch Schlapping Song.” The historian barges in and disrupts the number: “England, not Finland!” Already the Pythonesque hand is at work.
King Arthur, played with blissful naïveté and self-satisfaction by Scott McQuiston, “gallops” in on an imaginary horse, the clopping of hooves made with coconut shells by the king’s lackey Patsy, played with straight-man aplomb by Tim Hart. The king seeks men to join his Round Table but first finds two sentries who argue over theories about how the coconut might have come into his possession via migratory swallows.
The iconic and absurd lines keep coming, as do the laughs at dark matter. King Arthur finds Lance, later to be knighted as Sir Lancelot (Rob Devlin), and Sir Robin (Michael Baker) arguing over whether Robin, who is collecting dead bodies expired from the Plague, will accept from Lance a man (Tara Marie Lucido) who is not yet dead. That’s the premise for macabre-but-exuberant “I Am Not Yet Dead.”
The choreography is enjoyable for its comedic value more than its artistic prowess and, like a lot of Spamalot, spoofs Broadway musicals and so relies on their familiar precepts while at the same time lancing them.
“I am your king,” Arthur tells mud farmer Dennis’ mom (Matt Pavellas).
“Well I didn’t vote for you,” she says.
He says he is king because the Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur.
“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for government,” she says. “Executive power derives from a mandate from the masses.”
The king summons the mystical Lady of the Lake, who makes an entrance with the fanfare of Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” surrounded by her dancing Laker Girls. The Lady is played by Malinda DeRouen with diva virtuosity.
She and Sir Galahad (J.T. Holstrom, alternating between Meatloaf pomp and Capt. Kirk quirk) duet on the “The Song That Goes Like This,” which parodies musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber in particular. Among the many other songs is the lament “I’m All Alone,” sung by King Arthur, with his eager and overlooked sidekick trying to be acknowledged.
The well-paced show cycles on through its insulting French guards, gay knights, Camelot as a Vegas revue, a spoof of Fiddler on the Roof. The costumes and set pieces are nicely realized and daffy, but during Saturday’s performance, some of the performers’ mics went dead while others stayed live when they were off stage – they could be heard talking while changing costumes.
King Arthur acknowledged the intrusion of technical difficulties, looking for the stray voices floating into the scene. Good catch. But for a show as rollicking, complex and self-referencing as Spamalot, flubs don’t pierce the facade that it’s a show. It’s already done that.
After God commands the king and his knights to quest for the holy grail, one knight says to King Arthur, “If God is omnipotent, how can he misplace a cup? Seems implausible.”
“It’s a metaphor,” King Arthur says impatiently. “A symbol.”
The percussionist from the small and able band on stage hits the cymbal.
King Arthur looks at the musician and says, drolly, “Really?”
The technical issues were apparently cleared up by next performance. Besides, as the show suggests, “Always look on the bright side of life.” And this show is one of those bright sides.
SPAMALOT plays 7:30pm Thu-Sat, 2pm Sun, through Dec. 23, at Golden Bough Playhouse, Monte Verde at Eighth and Ninth, Carmel. $16-$38. 622-0100, www.pacrep.org