BWW Reviews: And Now for Something Completely Hilarious: SPAMALOT at Toby's
The Toby's crew have rolled out another solidly enjoyable evening of frivolity with their revival of Monty Python's Spamalot. Of course, Eric Idle's 2005 blockbuster musical based on Monty Python's King Arthur movie, done properly, is a sure-fire hit, a confection of generous helpings of all kinds of sure-fire elements. There's nonsense delivered in true Cantabridgian style, i.e. with insane argumentative rigor. There are dazzling scantily-clad showgirls ("naughty girls in nasty tights" as the lyrics to one song put it) and showboys , and what they do wear, in many variations (Finnish, French, Jewish, medieval) is spangly and imaginative. There are songs that are wonderfully self-referential (THE SONG THAT GOES LIKE THIS), and songs that push the limits of taste, like the flatulence-oriented RUN AWAY, or YOU WON'T SUCCEED ON BROADWAY, the latter being, shall we say, quite direct about religious affiliation on the Great White Way. And there are lots of tag-lines and tropes for Monty Python fans - and who isn't? Hard to quarrel with an assemblage of attractions like that.
A few try; there was one well-noted review by a Sam Anderson in Slate that proposed some reasons at least to consider not liking Spamalot. Anderson said (speaking of rigor) that Monty Python's punch lines, however dadaistic, had been carefully built up to, and that the plundering of those lines in this show, often out of context, makes the laughs "unearned." (For instance ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE is blasphemous and sardonic in its original placement in Life of Brian, its impact very dependent on its occurring during a mass crucifixion. Here it can almost be taken straight, as a cheer-up bit of music hall-style peppiness.) I applaud Mr. Anderson's steely determination to stay true to Pythonic purity - and to be fair, there does exist such a thing to be true to - but there is more than one way to make an audience laugh. To put it in Python-esque terms, it need not be "something completely similar" to the original. Fun, like cash, may be fungible, regardless of source.
And this company assures that the audience has fun. Lawrence B. Munsey, as Arthur, the one character who never understands he's in a joke, brings a pleasing tattered gravity to the part. Jeffrey Shankle as Arthur's ignored but vital underling Patsy, evinces a different kind of comic gravity, a political awareness, to the part of the downtrodden peasant. David Jennings, a master of sketch comedy, gets a variety of memorable parts: the aforementioned flatulent French Taunter, King Ni, and the sexually ambiguous Lancelot, among others. Judging from curtain call applause, the audience I watched with had a clear favorite: Priscilla Cuellar as the Lady of the Lake, possessor of an amazing voice. I'm not a Spamalot expert, but I note that she delivers her songs with a lot more Mariah Carey-ish melisma than the original Lady, Sarah Ramirez. While I'm not ordinarily a fan of that style, I think it works perfectly here.
And tips of the hat are certainly due to Tim Hatley, the prolific and imaginative costume designer, and director Mark Minnick, who seems to have milked every laugh out of the raw material.
In short, you would have to be a corpse not to enjoy this experience. Come to think of it, based on the number of times in the show the dead are resurrected to help with the wisecracks, even being a corpse might not prevent your enjoying this show.
Monty Python's Spamalot, by Eric Idle, songs by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, directed by Mark Minnick, through March 23 at Toby's the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044. 410-730-8311, TobysDinnerTheatre.com. Adult tickets $51-$56. Scatological, ethnic, and sexual-orientation-related humor, vulgar language, comic violence. May not be suitable for children.