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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Silly Spam

Theater Reviews

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  Revivals of the King Arthur legend can usually be rated in terms of historical accuracy or the imagination with which they push the legend further into fantasy. Broadway Across America’s Spamalot, which ended its brief stint at the MarcusCenter on May 4, gleefully defies either category. In fact, its main purpose is to offer a musical take on another version of the King Arthur story: the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Although it departs from the film at times, especially in its upbeat finale, Spamalot is steeped in the silly, raucous and bitingly satirical humor that characterizes Monty Python’s film and television work. Fans won’t be disappointed and it’s quite likely the production has already resulted in plenty of new converts to the work of the legendary British comedy crew.

  Spamalot follows the trials and tribulations of King Arthur as he roams the land in search of brave knights to join his ranks. Like the film, it offers a grim but amusing caricature of medieval England: cartloads of the not-quite-dead being unceremoniously trundled through the streets; impoverished subjects barely acknowledging their king and anarchic peasants being recruited as knights. Set against this unseemly squalor, the jaunty musical numbers are even more amusing. However, the gaudy Las Vegas glitz injected into parts of the production is unnecessary, even jarring at times. Scantily clad “Lakers Girls” that appear onstage and shake their pompoms and their rumps at the audience are more in keeping with Benny Hill than Monty Python.

  The cast admirably stands in for Monty Python’s original fivesome. Patrick Heusinger, who plays Sir Lancelot, sounds eerily similar to John Cleese. Fans of the British comedian will be glad to hear that Cleese makes a cameo appearance (albeit a recorded one) as the voice of God. All cast members play multiple roles, perhaps the most versatile being Christopher Sutton as the outrageously effeminate Prince Herbert and the timid Not Dead Fred. He seems blessed with the spirit of earnest silliness that the parts require.

  Songs like “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” “Diva’s Lament” and “His name is Lancelot” appropriate elements of contemporary culture. The Lady of the Lake bewails the impediments to female success and gay marriage is treated to the campiness characteristic of late-’60s and ’70s television sitcoms. It’s not difficult to imagine the production carrying on for years, finding new ways to poke fun at modern society.

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