BWW Reviews: PYTHON Seen in Beach Haven
Last month the legendary sketch comedy troupe Monty Python made their final live appearance in a spectacular show at London's O2 arena that was also broadcast to cinemas worldwide. The Pythons first appeared on British TV in 1969, creating obscure characters and hysterical sketches that seem just as fresh and funny today, some 45 years later. They also created five feature films together including the 1974 comedy classic MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, a Python-eyed riff on the Arthurian legend. Despite initial misgivings from the rest of the troupe, Eric Idle created a musical version of the film dubbed MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT. It went on to conquer Broadway winning the coveted 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical - the holy grail of our industry. It seems the world just can't get enough Python! Now Monty Python has stormed the beach - Beach Haven, that is - with an exceptional new production of SPAMALOT at Surflight Theatre, New Jersey's 65 year-old summer stock institution.
Director Charlie Siedenburg obviously knows what makes SPAMALOT tick and has assembled an ideal seventeen member cast that easily lives up to the most devoted Python fan's highest expectations. He even manages to interpolate a few comic touches unique to Surflight that are perfectly in synch with Python's inimitable comic voice. Performing SPAMALOT involves not only paying homage to the original film, but to the myriad of other Pythonesque references interpolated into the zany script. As the owner of Excalibur, Kelly Briggs is perfect as the hapless King Arthur. His crisp diction makes every royal word clear - a mandatory discipline in a wit-driven musical like SPAMALOT. Physically, Briggs bears more than a passing resemblance to Tony nominee Tim Curry, who originated the role on Broadway and London's West End.
Just as the cross-dressing Pythons only used one woman in their original troupe (the versatile Carol Cleveland), SPAMALOT has its own token female, the Lady of the Lake, played by the talented Ali Gleason. A versatile singer and comedian, Gleason belts out "The Diva's Lament" with zesty comic panache and a rich brassy voice that nearly stops the show. Come to think of it, she does stop the show - interrupting the proceedings to musically gripe about the size of her role! The ginger haired diva also looks smolderingly sexy in her scarlet dressing gown, especially when performing in front of Surflight's red velvet show curtain. With such an abundance of talent, one female seems more than enough.
Creator Idle teamed with composer John Du Prez to create a show that not only pays tribute to its film inspiration, but to Broadway as well. The production is littered with quick comic references to popular musicals and to even to Surflight itself. Eponine from LES MISERABLES (last season's big hit) makes a cameo appearance. The bottle dance from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (their last show) is recreated with golden grails standing in for wine bottles. There's even a leggy kick line quite possibly lifted directly from A CHORUS LINE (their next show). "The Song That Goes Like This" is a sly parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber with the in-joke further reinforced by a fleeting glimpse of the Phantom of the Opera himself. Other musical comedy gags include brief jabs at Sondheim's COMPANY, THE MAN OF LA MANCHA, FUNNY GIRL, WEST SIDE STORY, Bob Fosse, and even THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (I think). It's clear that director Siedenburg knows and loves Broadway as much as he knows and loves Python.
If you didn't catch the original troupe in their farewell performances at the O2 last month, you still can get your Monty Python fix in Beach Haven. Surflight's production of SPAMALOT is the perfect refuge from a rainy day at the shore or the relentless traffic of the Garden State Parkway. The show runs through August 24th. For tickets or further information, visit www.surflight.org or call 609.492.9477. The theater is located at 201 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, NJ.