BWW Reviews: Prepare to Plotz at EPAC's SPAMALOT
Eggs and Spam. Spam, eggs, and Spam. Spam, Spam, eggs, and - oh, sorry. If that menu recitation triggers no memories for you, then Monty Python's finest two hours or so plus intermission may mean nothing to you. If you can recite the Dead Parrot Sketch from memory, or if you at least have a tremendous sense of humor about Arthurian legend and a total irreverence for almost anything, on the other hand, MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT is without a doubt your show. The stage musical version of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL - what do you mean, you didn't see the movie? - is one of the funniest musicals to reach Broadway, and it's especially funny if you're a Python fan. With book and lyrics by Eric Idle, and music by Idle, John DuPrez, and Neil Innes, it's classic Python for the American stage.
American stage? Aren't Monty Python British? Well, yes - but SPAMALOT, surprisingly to us, perhaps, isn't nearly the hit in the UK that it is in the US. Some of the references - the Lady of the Lake's cheerleading Laker Girls, and "You Won't Succeed On Broadway (if You Don't Have Any Jews," one of the show's best production numbers, as two examples, just don't travel well back to the Python homeland.
Well, we may say, too bad for the Brits. It's our Python and we like it this way. We may particularly like it at Ephrata Performing Arts Center, where Pat Kautter, who recently directed EPAC's sensational FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, works her Python-fan magic with Idle's recounting of the story of King Arthur and his knights. Carl Bomberger's King Arthur, Bob Breen's musical, not menacing, brave Sir Robin, Brian Viera's homicidally charming Lancelot, and Preston Schreffler's gloriously blond Sir Galahad take on the world of, and around, Camelot with feckless abandon, searching for knights, Grails, and various meanings of life (though that's a different Monty Python film). They're aided by Arthur's muse, the Lady of the Lake, played by Martha Marie Wasser with exactly the right air of ethereal unearthliness combined with great lungs and some nice scat singing.
The opening night audience proved nearly unable to control itself at points, howling with glee at every traditional Python reference including a giant can of SPAM and the deadly puppet rabbit, as well as the launching of cows at the enemy. There was also delighted roaring at "I Am Not Dead Yet," the show's beloved ode to the black death and plague, as well as to the Laker Girls cheer and to the beloved "The Song That Goes Like This." The Lady's "Whatever Happened to My Part" was a hysterical take on Liza Minelli as performed, and the ensemble number "You Won't Succeed On Broadway" had the audience, much of which was prepared for it, laughing well before the song even began. Pat Kautter certainly learned a trick or two from directing FIDDLER, as she once again staged a chorus of Chasidic dancers balancing booze on their hats, this time as an obvious joke. Sir Robin was at his best here, as was the entire ensemble, dancing and singing their way through the ode to Jews on Broadway.
Special mention must go to Rogan Motter, playing Arthur's servant Patsy, who is onstage every time Arthur is, and who's notoriously responsible for much of the humor in Arthur's scenes as well as for making sure that the horses' hooves make enough noise. Motter's Patsy is wonderfully aggrieved at Arthur for managing not to notice his existence at every turn, though the King would be unable to function without him.
As for the subplots of the quest for the Grail, ranging from searching for love to searching for shrubbery, with a few badly mis-aimed arrows and poor military strategy abounding throughout, it's best to see them and to sing along with them rather than to hear them described. It's all right. Sir Robin and his musicians will help you along with that.
Be warned - it's funny, it's amazingly costumed, and it is about King Arthur, but if you know Monty Python, you know that it really isn't for young children, primarily so they don't attempt some of the staged stunts at home. Otherwise, you've been warned. There's some slightly adult subject matter handled in completely immature ways, because - Monty Python. You'll also spend more time explaining why we don't talk about things that way in real life than you will explaining what the adult bits are actually about. Send the kids out to see THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON instead.
At EPAC through May 16. Prepare to be wildly entertained, and don't bother with polite, quiet laughter. Go ahead and plotz (collapse with laughter), even if you're not Jewish. You know you want to, and no one else will be holding in the hysteria, so let go. For tickets and information, call 717-733-7966 or visit www.ephrataperformingartscenter.com.