Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A surly yankee who hates musicals attends a musical.

As promised; my eagerly anticipated review of Monty Python's Spamalot.

The Monty Python group are renown amongst British-humor aficionados world over. Thick-spectacle-bedecked youths everywhere dedicate themselves to rote line-memorization and awkward referential snark. There are even fossils and stars named after the original cast members, fer chrissake. In addition to the TV series, movies, and books, the group has crossed over into the world of the Broadway theater and do their best to push the theater into their surreal, absurdist world. The musical comedy Spamalot is a rendition of the 1975 classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I don't want to spoil too much for the uninitiated, so suffice it to say that both the movie and stage production are essentially about the Knights of the Round Table on a quest to find the Holy Grail. King Arthur, Sir Robin, Galahad, and Lancelot all make appearances in addition to the movie staples such as the Knights Who Say Ni, the Black Knight, Taunting Frenchmen and the Swamp Castle crew. Genuinely funny things happen, dick-and-fart jokes are made, and everyone has an uproarious time. For what its worth, your humble author thinks that most classic British comedy is far and beyond superior to the current schlock of comedy movies.

This is a musical, so I expected some gay-old-time song-and-dance. I sorely underestimated their dedication to the craft. There are a lot of song and dance numbers. You may not understand me here; there are A. LOT. OF. SONGS. The original movie classics are all included in addition to a plethora new numbers. This may or may not sound enticing.

The stage version is obviously designed to appeal to a current audience; pop-culture references are numerous. Jokes are made at the expense of drug-addled divas, homosexuals, Jews, and Finland. Fear not however; irony is heavy and tongue is firmly planted in cheek. In addition, over the course of act I and throughout act II, the production and cast become aware of themselves and the audience, creating a metafictional theater situation. Many of the song numbers include musical allusions and subsequent mocking of other successful theater productions. Knees were slapped and chortles were uttered. A note for you daring types: sit in an aisle seat on the first floor and you may be subjected to a moment of audience participation.

Now comes the time to get down to the critical brass tacks: choreography and acting quality surpassed my (rather nonexistent) expectations. A standout was Caroline Bowman, the actress portraying The Lady Of The Lake. Her singing abilities were amazing. No hyperbole. Sound quality was excellent but perhaps I am a bit naive to theater sound expectations; my ears have been repeatedly raped by various metal acts. All lyrics were understandable and crystal clear. The stage-sets were faithful to the designs of the movie, all the way down to their intentional flaws. In fact, the only critical grenade I can lob is at Miller Auditorium for their seating. The seats are pretty awful, even for my slender buttocked frame.

Confession time; I am not the world's largest Monty Python fan and I am most definitely NOT a musical theater kind of gentleman. Despite involvement with the high school drama team and my family's well-meaning patronage of the playhouse on several occasions throughout my childhood, the theater just isn't for me. Musicals in particular. Did Spamalot's wily charm convert me into a season ticket holder? Well, no. But thanks to a generous friend with an extra ticket I was able to give it a try. I left Miller after having a genuinely good time due to the quality of the cast and humor. I highly doubt I would have been able to say the same had the show been one of the many interminable musicals that have graced the stage at Miller in the past.

The Kalamazoo dates have all concluded, but Monty Python's Spamalot is playing several nearby dates if you're interested in attending.

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