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Monty Python’s Spamalot
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle, New Music by John du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed and Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny, St. Louis

June 17, 2013

spamalot1

It’s June, and in St. Louis that means it’s Muny time again. A time-honored tradition in St. Louis, the Muny has become a highlight of the summer for me and my family, as well as many others around the area. Despite the early evening thunderstorms that delayed the opening night performance of Spamalot, the show went on, and proved to be a harbinger of what looks like it will be another excellent Muny season.

The musical, which according to the program has been “lovingly ripped-off” from the classic 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, follows the story of King Arthur and his Knights on the quest for the legendary cup. Many of the well-known elements from the film are here—such as the Knights Who Say “Ni” (cleverly interpreted here by the Muny Youth Ensemble), the Black Knight, the Killer Rabbit, and more, but the adaptation doesn’t stop there. The script, written by Python alum Eric Idle, also incorporates elements from other Monty Python films and many satirical jabs at pop culture in general and the medium of musical theatre in particular. The music is a combination of songs from Python films as well as new songs in various styles—from folk to traditional musical theatre to pop ballads to lounge to disco. It’s not a “deep” show by any means. It’s an unabashed farce which makes no claims to be anything else, and it’s an absolute laugh riot from start to finish.

John O’Hurley, who has played the role on Broadway, is ideally cast as King Arthur. He brings just the right balance of authority, charm and incredulity as well as displaying a strong singing voice, excellent stage presence and comic ability, and great chemistry with his fellow performers, most notably the equally winning David Hibbard as Arthur’s long-suffering servant, Patsy (their duet on “I’m All Alone” is a treat), and Michele Ragusa as the Lady of the Lake. Ragusa, who has given very strong performances in the past at the Muny in Titanic and Singin’ In the Rain, is in great form here as well, displaying a strong, versatile voice on songs like the hilarious “The Song That Goes Like This” and it’s lounge-y reprise, as well as “Find Your Grail” and the comic tour-de-force “Diva’s Lament”. Other standout performances include Kevin Cahoon in various roles, displaying a gorgeous singing voice especially as the young, misunderstood Prince Herbert, who plays a role in helping Sir Lancelot (Chris Hoch) discover his own destiny. All four main Knights of the Round Table (Hoch, John Scherer as Sir Robin, Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad, and Tally Sessions as Sir Bedivere) also work together well to form a cohesive, hilarious ensemble. All four of these actors turn up in other roles throughout the show as well, showing off their versatility and adding to the side-splitting hilarity of the production.

I thoroughly enjoyed the full-scale comic production numbers such as “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (with the modified lyrics first used on the UK tour), an uproarious ode to celebrity stunt-casting in musicals, and the power-pop anthem “Find Your Grail”, which manages to be both uplifting and over-the-top ridiculous at the same time, and with a fun snow-capped mountain set piece to go with it. The finale, which is a reprise of “Find Your Grail” highlighting the various knights’ fates, is also a delight. There are too many great moments for me to be able to mention them all, but this production does a great job of capturing the spirit of the original film while adding enough musical theatre elements to make it its own unique entity.

Visually, the production made good use of the vast Muny stage, with a colorful set by Steve Gillam, including several clever movable set pieces like the aforementioned mountain, giant slot machines for the Vegas-style “Camelot” sequence, several castles and more. The new (as of last year) electonic scenery wall served as a great backdrop for the action and Monty Python’s trademark animations. Even though there was a small glitch with the wall the night I saw the show (sections of it were not functioning), it didn’t get in the way of the overall performance. Apparently, the cast and crew had no time for a final tech rehearsal due to the inclement weather, but that minor issue with the wall was the only noticeable issue. The rest of the production ran very smoothly with all the technical elements including the sets, lighting and sound.

This is (with the possible exception of last year’s Pirates!) the funniest show I have ever seen at the Muny. No punches are pulled and every possible joke is milked for all its worth, and there are some fun little nods to St. Louis and the Muny thrown into the show for good measure. The surprise appearance by Eric Idle after the curtain call, leading the audience in a sing-along, was an added bonus. This production was a true joy to experience, and it makes for an ideal introduction to another promising season at the Muny.

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