Stratford Festival 2023/Monty Python’s Spamalot, book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, directed by Lezlie Wade, Avon Theatre, Apr. 19 to Oct. 28. Tickets here.
Sometimes you just need a good laugh, and that is just what Monty Python’s Spamalot delivers. It is a show that knows that it is an exercise in the ridiculous, and rejoices in that fact. What a tonic for our times!
The musical is a “rip off” (their words, not mine) of the 1975 movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which in turn is a rip off of the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table legends. The show debuted in 2005 (directed by the late, great Mike Nichols), winning a best musical Tony, and it has never looked back. Spamalot even had a commemorative United Kingdom stamp in 2011.
The plot of Spamalot, such as it is, follows King Arthur (Jonathan Goad) and his page Patsy (Eddie Glen) as they try to recruit knights for their round table. They do manage to come up with four — the singing and dancing Sir Robin (Trevor Patt), the violent but handsome Sir Lancelot (Aaron Krohn), the former anti-monarchist Sir Dennis Galahad (Liam Tobin), and the constantly flatulent Sir Bedevere (Aidan DeSalaiz).
There is also their muse of sorts, the Lady of the Lake (Jennifer Rider-Shaw), who sets them off on their quest for the Holy Grail, which later turns into having to create a Broadway musical. Along the way they encounter all manner of creatures, human or otherwise. In fact, other than Goad and Rider-Shaw, the talented cast plays a multitude of roles.
There are some particularly delicious moments in Spamalot. For example, the hilarious song You Won’t Succeed On Broadway, outlines that the key to success is having Jews. Or, after being a fixture in the first act, the Lady of the Lake virtually disappears in the second act, and when she finally reappears, she sings the very funny The Diva’s Lament (What Ever Happened To My Part?) And then there is Lancelot’s wild disco gay outing His Name Is Lancelot, and at this point we should mention Lancelot’s hapless love interest, Prince Herbert (Josh Doig).
And lest we forget, Camelot itself is a Las Vegas clone equipped with the six Laker Girls chorus line. The title of the musical actually comes from a line in the song The Knights Of The Round Table — We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.
The reason that I’ve always liked Monty Python is because the original six creators (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones — geniuses all) were clever. No matter how crazy, how outrageous, how scatological the Monty Python skits/movies were, there was intellect behind them. The group’s satiric take on all things held near and dear was relentless, and they were never afraid to veer into scenes of questionable taste.
The thing about satire and farce is that you have to play it for real — as if your very life depended on it, and Goad and Glen, who are at the heart of the matter, understand that. The rest of the cast is right behind them in energy and commitment, and director Lezlie Wade has set a furious pace that never lets up.
Everything works — Laura Burton’s music direction, Jesse Robb’s choreography, David Boechler’s costume and set design, Renée Brode’s lighting, and Sean Nieuwenhuis’s projections. The score itself provides an infinite variety of catchy tunes and laugh-out-loud lyrics.
Yes, Spamalot is silly. Yes, it is irreverent. Yes, it is inane. But the moment you see that line of chanting monks hitting themselves in the head with their prayer books, you know you are in for a treat.
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