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Monty Python takes the stage at MSMT

Airspeed + swallows
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  August 18, 2010

THE KUH-NIGGETS Valiant souls all — well, except Robin.

"Adult Situations," a sign in the theater lobby promises, though as my companion eagerly commented pre-curtain, the disclaimer should perhaps also include a warning of "Childish Situations." But you too will be anticipating them if you've come out to see the inimitable humor of Monty Python, alternately scathing and scatological, adapted for the stage in Spamalot. The comedy, which opened on Broadway to sold-out audiences in 2005 and promptly won a Tony, is an entertaining colloid of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the 1975 cult-classic film, and the general genre of musical theater. That is to say that Spamalot, which was written by Eric Idle, of the original Monty Python, ably satirizes the tropes of both literature's heroic romance and the stage's Broadway spectacle. They match up well, and the Maine State Music Theatre does a superlative and very glitzy job of sending them up.

In case it's been some years since you and your buddies fired up the bong and popped The Holy Grail into the VCR, here's the gist: It's 932 AD in England, plague and general precariousness reign everywhere, and the Lady of the Lake (Daniella Dalli) has granted King Arthur of the Britons (Nat Chandler) a quest by which to find meaning and fulfillment. He rounds up his Knights and his bag-carrier Patsy (a nicely gnome-ish Charles Abbot) and off they go.

In the hands of the Monty Python crew, this meant jabs at everything from monarchy to metaphor, and I'd forgotten how funny some of it is. Remember the scene when Arthur comes upon the anarcho-syndicalist peasants who don't recognize his kingship ("Women lying around in ponds passing out swords is no basis for a system of government.")? That's in here, nicely set up by Chandler's noble dead-pan, as well as the bit about sparrows and coconuts, the Knights Who Say Ni!, and all the rest of it.

The union of these classic gags with musical-theater spoof is a natural, and MSMT's cast is spot-on with their beaming, hammy exhilaration. Take Not Dead Fred (Chuck Ragsdale), the guy who's "not dead yet" in the Bring Out Your Dead scene: He's got a fabulously loose-limbed song-and-dance number, accompanied by a chorus of rag-swathed plague victims. Or the effete Prince-in-distress Herbert (also Ragsdale), whose urge to sing naturally gets full outlet here. To these natural cross-overs Idle adds the device that to find the Grail, Arthur et al must put on a Broadway show. This allows for a bevy of tongue-in-cheek allusions (to Les Mis, Fiddler, The Producers, etc.); gratuitous showgirls and -guys for every occasion (MSMT's ensemble boasts absolutely virtuoso dancers); send-ups of a range of music from rock anthems to romantic ballads; and the introduction of certain must-have show-biz contingents that might otherwise never have found purchase in King Arthur's court, including gays and Jews.

Spoof after spoof, this show benefits from MSMT's usual lavish production values. Costumes, particularly, are gorgeous; the Lady of the Lake's emerald frondy spangles are like crack for the eyes, and as the show's Diva, she appears in a staggering succession of pointedly pointless but so very glittery gowns. The pit orchestra is superb and witty; and great fun is had with stage effects, including the prosthetics and puppetry of the Black Knight, whose appendages Arthur entertainingly hacks off. And though the low-fi animation of the movie isn't recreated here, the lighting design includes some nice bubbly polka dots and squiggles that are nod enough to the '70s.

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  Topics: Theater , Monty Python, Theater, Eric Idle,  More more >
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