Review: SPAMALOT at Ogunquit Playhouse

A new stage and stellar opening production

By: Jun. 19, 2021
Review: SPAMALOT at Ogunquit Playhouse
Charles Shaughnessy
appears as King Arthur
in Spamalot at the
Ogunquit Playhouse
Review: SPAMALOT at Ogunquit Playhouse
The theater pavilion at
the Ogunquit Playhouse

There is nothing like seeing live theater in a post pandemic world.

After being shuttered for its 2020 theater season due to the pandemic, the Ogunquit Playhouse returns to the southern Maine scene with a bawdy, outrageous musical performed in what can only be described as a mammoth tented theater built adjacent to the holy grail of summer theaters in this seaside town.

And speaking of holy grail, the renewed season opens with a production of Spamalot that brings the classic British madcap film antics of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to the stage as a musical with parodies of the King Arthur legend combined with homages to the unique styles of musical theater.

Spamalot was a smash hit on Broadway and was written by Python member Eric Idle and directed by stage and screen veteran Mike Nichols ("The Graduate"). During its run, the musical collected several Tony Awards.

In this season opener, Spamalot brings to town a spectacular cast, some grand singing and dancing, and all the zaniness you can pack onto a single stage, though not the Ogunquit stage most are accustomed to. More on that later.

With no regard for the accuracy of the Middle Ages legend, Spamalot tells the story of King Arthur (Charles Shaughnessy of TV fame for appearing in Days of Our Lives, The Nanny and Mad Men ) and his Knights of the Round Table: the cowardly theater nerd, Sir Robin (Josh Grisetti), the closeted Sir Lancelot (Marc Ginsburg), handsome Sir Galahad (Daniel A. Lopez) and the well-intentioned Sir Bedevere (Dwelvan David); and their quest for the Holy Grail. The grail is said to bring miraculous powers that provide happiness, eternal youth and sustenance in infinite abundance.

Aided by faithful manservant Patsy (impishly played by Jen Cody), who follows the knights around banging coconuts together as they gallop along on imaginary horses, this rather inept band of warriors encounter many obstacles along the way, including a castle full of insult-hurling Frenchmen (one of the funniest scenes of the evening) and the dreaded Knights Who Say "Ni." And then there's the killer rabbit to contend with.

Fortunately, the merry men are aided in their journey by the Lady of the Lake (Mariand Torres), a muse who spends most of the evening poking fun at stage divas of the theater world. Torres is a vocal powerhouse that soars in her self-deprecating tunes like "The Song That Goes Like This," that pays tribute to the stereotypical tunes found in most musicals or in "The Diva's Lament," where after a lengthy absence from the action in Act II she sings "Whatever Happened to My Part?"

The musical numbers are pure schtick which is what you would expect when Monty Python comedy adapts to the musical theater stage.

"I Am Not Dead Yet" takes on those who are not ready to succumb to the plague while "Knights of the Round Table," treats the audience to a Vegas-style rendering of Camelot.

And even the over-the-top themes like "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" (If You Don't Have Any Jews)," and "Where Are You?" Prince Herbert's coming out of the closet disclosure are just the tip of the iceberg of catchy, witty, irreverent tunes that fill the evening.

And the uplifting tune "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," borrowed from the movie, Monty Python and the Life of Brian, even finds a home in Spamalot with the audience joining in for a post curtain call rendition.

Director, BT McNicholl, maintains just the right pace of exaggerated craziness in the show while music director, Fred Lassen, keeps the actors and musicians perfectly in balance in the expansive theater.

With a very skilled performer like Shaughnessy at the helm of this production, a role he took on in Ogunquit ten years ago, the cast is fabulous. Some play multiple roles with quick costume changes and adapt to different musical styles and choreography without missing a beat. The vocals are solid, the costumes are dazzling, and the set, which is on a stage three times the size of Ogunquit's indoor venue, is crafty and creative.

I would dare say there's an extra liveliness from this group of actors as they return to the stage after 15 months away from the theater. They are not only bringing back live theater to a hungry audience, but they are bringing back a sense of normalcy that we so desperately need. I cried tears of joy during the curtain call as I savored every moment in the theater once again.

And about that tented theater pavilion...

Though I call it a tented theater, don't for a moment think that the newly created theater is a pop-up tent with flaps blowing in the breeze. With a steel structure, a thick vinyl like exterior that offers protection from the elements and reduces outside lighting, this temporary theater is a well-planned building to accommodate post pandemic audiences. The only nuisance was a couple of loud motorcycles zooming on U.S. Route 1. I also would have preferred if the entrances had been closed during the show.

Seating comes in twos with chairs about six feet apart from other audience members and about six feet between rows. The theme for this summer is "masks in motion" where guests are encouraged to wear masks while moving about the Ogunquit grounds but can take them off while indulging in pre and post show drinks and while watching the performance.

This space offers every ounce of magic that the Ogunquit Playhouse has offered for well over eight decades. Sure, we would all like to be back in the historic theater, but this structure is a magnificent achievement to insure a comfortable, and very safe, venue for theater in 2021.

Thank you Ogunquit Playhouse for bringing me home once again.

Spamalot runs through July 10.

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