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BWW Review: SPAMALOT! Sizzles at Toby's In Columbia

Two Years Waiting In The Wings Haven't Grown Mold on the Spam

BWW Review: SPAMALOT! Sizzles at Toby's In Columbia

BWW Review: SPAMALOT! Sizzles at Toby's In Columbia

Laughter may not be the best medicine for EVERYTHING, (broken ribs come to mind) but it's certainly pretty good for a lot of things. The members of Monty Python's Flying Circus are expert practitioners of this alternative therapy, producing ridiculosities that have spanned five decades so far. SPAMALOT! which originally was scheduled to play at Toby's in the summer of 2020, assures that the Python iconic silliness will continue amusing live audiences for many additional decades.

Monty Python's satiric semi-slapstick style of comedy isn't universally appreciated. It's perhaps akin to Bluegrass, borscht or The Three Stooges. You like it, or you don't. In this case, however, if you're on the fence about Monty Python, have no experience with the phenomena or would like to please a loved one who is a fan, GO. It's boisterous, mirthful and a low-risk night out.

Toby's buffet offerings are delicious, and you'll appreciate the venue's safety precautions. Bring your vax card and ID, and be prepared to wear your mask at all times when not eating or drinking. Salads and desserts are served (no more ice cream bar, sorry) and guests wear a glove on their serving hand when selecting from the buffet. As usual, many offerings have show-adjacent names. I recommend the brightly colored roasted potatoes, despite not remembering what they're called. The special show drink, "The Bright Side" is a pleasant frozen strawberry colada.

Whether or not your heritage includes hamsters or the scent of elderberries, you'll enjoy the spectacle, the costumes, the technical effects (which include fog and strobe), the animations and the pre-show stylings of Robert John Biederman. Song and dance routines are precisely what you'd expect, only longer, with more costuming. The opening musical number is fantastic, and based on a sketch described by a YouTuber as the very essence of Monty Python: "absolute silliness, presented seriously." Said routine, however, is just shy of 20 seconds long.

Fortunately, Monty Python has a depth and breadth of material such that the main matter is What Must We Leave Out Altogether. (Spoiler: cheesemongery and an absurdist pedestrian Minister did not make the cut.) As framework, they've swiped the whole movie Monty Python and The Holy Grail, puffed up and besparkled for West End, Broadway and beyond.

This cast is wonderful. Illness and injury aren't limited to football, so the cast I saw was not entirely the one that rehearsed the show, and the cast you'll see may be different yet. The Understudies and Swings at Toby's are so professional and dedicated to their craft that if I hadn't been told, I would never have suspected substitutions.

The SPAMALOT! cast includes regular favorite performers, though a reduced number of women, as Monty Python's Flying Circus had over the course of fifty years, exactly zero female cast in their official ensemble. The SPAMALOT! Ensemble at Toby's includes A-list women as essentially decorative fancy dancers. The Lady of the Lake is the sole substantial female role in SPAMALOT! -and what a role it is. It requires much, and Janine Sunday, well, there should be a tax on how much fun Janine Sunday is having as The Lady of the Lake. Sunday's vocal power and range are awe-inspiring and when employed for comedic effect, hilarious. This is particularly true in "The Song That Goes Like This" and "The Diva's Lament."

Sunday is surrounded by similarly high-caliber talent. Adam Grabau, despite having performed his role more than 900 times already, gleefully chews up the scenery every time he's onstage, which is exactly the thing we expect and desire when being taunted by a Frenchman. The extremely expressive David James seems to be a little stiff in an early number, but it turns out he's not dead yet, and cavorts all over the stage in half a dozen roles with enviable quickness and panache. Jeffrey Shankle as Robin is outright adorable in what might be my favorite ever of his performances. Justin Calhoun is big and cheesy, and, when appropriate, well aged. Shawn Kettering pulls off an impressive act of theater, stepping in as King Arthur on very short notice. Quadry Brown as Patsy, in addition to having excellent timing, is expressive, emotive and melodic. Patsy might be the strongest character role in the show, and Quadray Brown is outstanding in it. He's one of my favorite of Toby's usual Ensemble cast, and now I hope to see him in meatier parts at Toby's in the future.

A strong cast deserves great stage conception and choreography. Director Mark Minnick delivers, creating fresh in-the-round magic for every show. His choreography is peppy, imaginative and 100% watchable. A tiny perk of cast shortage is the Director's potential appearance, which Minnick does, seamlessly.

The sound quality is pristine: audible, clear and free of glitches. Mark Smedley's Sound Design adds punctuation to complicated comedy without stealing focus. Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin creates ambiance and drama, limiting high-contrast or moody shadowing in favor of large general washes which maximize the mobile faces of the cast.

Ross Scott Rawlings and his Superlative Miniature Orchestra are afforded more blatant cast interactions in this show, which has little respect for an imaginary fourth wall. Additionally noteworthy are the brass flourishings of Tony Neenan and the keyboard work by Ann Prizzi and Ross Scott Rawlings in conjunction with Jeffrey Shankle in "You Won't Succeed On Broadway."

The costuming is more Vegas than I expected, but it's consistently so, presumably a design choice intrinsic to the show's original Tim Hatley costume concept. I must also say a word about the wigs: good. Good wigs. They looked nice and enhanced the characterizations, especially for Sir Robin and Sir Dennis Galahad.

In short, it's a couple hours of non-seriousness, exuberantly performed with precision and enthusiasm that extends beyond the cast and production crew to the box office personnel, dining hosts, food runners and bussing staff. A warm welcome, hearty meal and boisterous laughter await you at Toby's, so stop reading and count your family to see how many tickets to request.

SPAMALOT! plays at Toby's through March 20, 2022. The following production, ROCKY The Musical runs March 26- June 5, 2022.

As always, everything is subject to change without notice.

Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Photos: The cast of SPAMALOT!; Adam Grabau and David James as French Guards

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

For tickets, phone the box officeat 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including one 15 minute intermission.



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