BWW Reviews: Theatre By the Sea Summer Ends with Splendid SPAMALOT
For audience member's of a certain age, it's likely that they have heard of Monty Python. Younger audiences, on the other hand, may or may not want to do a quick Google search before seeing Monty Python's Spamalot at Theatre By the Sea. It all depends on just how surprised you are willling to be, just how comfortable you are at being caught off guard by a unique brand of comedy that Python's fans know only too well. Pre-show Googling or not, the true enjoyment of the show comes from just sitting back, relaxing and letting yoruself be wrapped in the warm embrace of some of the most weird, wacky, irreverant and witty comedy you will ever likely see in a Broadway musical.
In case you're about to click over to do some searching, let me fill you in on a few details. Monty Python is a British comedy troupe made up of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The group's heyday was back in the 1970s and early 1980s and their wildly popular efforts included a television show and a number of movies. One of those movies was 1975's Monty Python and The Holy Grail, which was turned into a Broadway musical, Monty Python's Spamalot in 2005. The musical became a smashing success, including winning a Tony Award for Best Musical for the season in which it premiered.
Holy Grail focuses on the famous legend of King Arthur, his knights of the round table, and their search for, you guessed it, the holy grail. The movie also features a number of scenes which are iconic and beloved among Python fans. Those scenes are all firmly intact in the musical but there are also some big differences. In fact, the musical is really two different shows. One is a musical version of the aforementioned Monty Python film, with all the film's wacky wierdness and irreverence. The other is a spot-on satire of Broadway, a musical that parodies all that is sacred about the very thing the audience is watching, a Broadway musical.
On both sides, Spamalot succeeds almost one hundred percent. All of the Python zaniness is wonderfully alive and kicking on stage. There are hilarious moments of slapstick, physical comedy, witty one-liners, vulgar bodily-function jokes, intellectual humor that goes over your head if you're not paying attention, and pretty much every other kind of humor you can imagine. There are also wonderful, hilarious songs about Broadway musicals, the kind of songs that appear in those musicals and the kind of people you need if you're going to mount a show.
In bringing all of this wackiness and hilarity to life, Theatre By the Sea does not disappoint. Director and Choreographer Billy Sprague, Jr. makes sure that every joke hits its mark and gets its moment to shine. Sometimes they come a little too fast to really register but that's just the nature of this musical. Pay attention or your going to miss a great laugh. Sprague also gets his large ensemble clicking like a well-oiled machine as it delivers one over-the-top moment after another, and the actors appear to be having a ton of fun under his capable direction.
Leading those actors is the wonderful Al Bundonis as King Arthur. While Bundonis has the stage presence, charisma and regal stature to pull off a convincing Arthur, he's also got the comic chops to pull of this role's particular brand of weirdness. Arthur is often the straight man surrounded by random craziness and Bundonis pulls of the straight man role perfectly.
Alongside King Arthur is his Lady of the Lake, played by Haley Swindal, so good in Theatre By the Sea's recent Mary Poppins. Here, Swindal gets to really cut loose and strut her stuff, showcasing her impressive talent. She steals many a scene and takes full advantage of her big solo moments, all of which are among the show's highlights. Swindal's powerful voice is matched by her comic ability and appearance that she is game for anything. She seems to be the kind of actress who will take any role or moment, go with it and knock it out of the park.
You can't have Camelot without the knights of the round table and they are played by an immensely talented bunch in this production. As Sir Robin, Harry Bouvy is a true song and dance man. He's got a number of great moments, mostly in the second act, and leads one of the musical's showstopping numbers. Michael Andrako plays Sir Dennis Galahad, a reluctant intellectual who becomes a knight, with a wonderful touch and talented handling of the role. In a number of roles, including Sir Lancelot, Jonathan Gregg is yet another fantastic talent who steals many a scene. While he gets a fantastic dance number as Lancelot, which he pulls off with impressive moves, he is also hilarious as The Enchanter and Knight of Ni, among others. Another holdover from Mary Poppins, Brad Bradley, who's nickname might be "the reaction machine," is perfect as Patsy, King Arthur's servant. Bradley gets many small moments and he makes every one of them extremely funny.
Many more words could be written listing the rest of the fantastic ensemble. There are many men playing fabulous guards, knights, French citizens, etc. And many women playing a variety of characters and showcasing fantastic talent as dancers. To their credit, every one of them fit seamlessly into the production, not standing out as less talented or less hard-working. They all deserve credit for making this such a tight, well-realized production.
Also deserving credit is the show's technical team, who pull off an excellent production, perhaps the best of the season at Theatre By the Sea. Cassie Lentz's set is wonderful and consistent, a cartoon-like world that matches perfectly with the musical's zany tone. Kurt Alger's costume design and Bailey Costa's lighting design are also very strong, especially the gorgeous costumes. Some issues came up in the sound design area, with some sound cues that were off or ill-timed.
Finally, speaking of sounding off or ill-timed, it's worth hoping that in the future, Theatre By the Sea will cut down or completely eliminate all the self-reverence. Spamalot was stopped dead in it's tracks twice so that the Producer could be name-dropped. Not once, but twice. And the curtain speech made sure to mention what an amazing guest voice they got to play the role of "Voice of God." Audiences don't need the constant reminder of how awesome you are. They just want a great show, which is what Spamalot it. Hopefully, in the future, Theatre By the Sea will stop with all the name-dropping and just let the great musical on stage speak for itself.
Monty Python's Spamalot runs through September 7th, Tuesdays through Sundays. Showtimes are 8pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2pm on Thursdays, 4pm on Saturdays and 5pm on Sundays. Tickets are $42, $52, and $62. Tickets are on sale by calling 401-782-8587, online at theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879.
Pictured: The cast of Monty Python's Spamalot. Photo by Steven Richard Photography.