Theater review: `Spamalot’

May 28

Opened May 27, 2009 at the Golden Gate Theatre

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Jeff Dumas is loyal sidekick Patsy (backed up by the Lady of the Lake’s Laker Girls) in the Broadway touring production of Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. Photos by Joan Marcus

Amiable Python musical farts in our general direction
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There’s nothing wrong with silliness. In fact, it’s quite a welcome thing right about now.

And who better to supply absurdity in abundance than the warped minds of the Monty Python clan?

It has taken a long time – way too long – for Monty Python’s Spamalot, the musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” to arrive in San Francisco. The cow-hurling, rabbit-monstering, knight-slicing show made Broadway heave (with laughter) more than four years ago. But because the brilliant producers decided to open a sit-down Las Vegas production, the tour was banned from California.

To those producers I say: I wave my private parts at your aunties.

As most Vegas versions of Broadway shows do, Spamalot didn’t last, and now that the tour is free to roam the Golden State, it opened this week at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series. The delayed arrival created a frenzy of hilarity on opening night – an intrepid audience member came dressed as one of the Knights of Ni – and original Python member Eric Idle, who adapted the 1975 film into the stage show, and composer John Du Prez, even showed up for the curtain call. Director Mike Nichols apparently had better things to do.

Having seen the original production on Broadway in 2005 and the Vegas version a couple summers ago, I can tell you this Spamalot is royally entertaining, with some clear scene-stealers in the cast.

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John O’Hurley (of “Seinfeld” fame) stars as King Arthur, and though he provides a solid center for this rambling quest, the show is routinely hijacked by supporting players.

Merle Dandridge (right) is the gorgeous, silken-voiced Lady of the Lake, the only real woman’s role in the show (aside from high-kicking chorus girls). Her numbers, including the Andrew Lloyd Webber spoof “The Song That Goes Like This” (with Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad), “Find Your Grail” and “The Diva’s Lament,” are all highlights and moments when the show becomes less of a wallow in Pythonalia and more of a real Broadway show.

Most of this hard-working cast plays multiple roles, but nobody does it as dexterously as Matthew Greer. His primary role is Sir Lancelot (“in tight pants a lot…he likes to dance a lot”), but he is outright hilarious as the chief French Taunter (“You don’t frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, son of a silly person!”), the head Knight of Ni (“Fetch us a shrubbery!”) and as the enigmatic Tim the Enchanter. Greer fully embraces the farcical Python spirit and makes the most of his iconic roles.

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Indeed, much of the pleasure for audience members seems to have nothing to do with the songs or the Broadway aspect of the show. It’s all about the Greatest Hits of the Grail – like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the dismembered Black Knight, the Knights of Ni, etc. Just seeing the character (expertly costumed by Tim Hatley, who also crafted the willfully cheesy sets) inspires a round of applause, like a singer launching into a favorite tune during a concert.

But you don’t have to be a Python enthusiast to enjoy the shallow pleasures of this high-quality Broadway fluff. Like Dandridge and Greer, the cast is full of delightful performers, including Christopher Sutton, who plays a stuffy British academic, Not Dead Fred, Sir Robin’s graphic minstrel and Prince Herbert, the golden-locked lad who just wants to sing his song. Another scene stealer is Jeff Dumas as Patsy, King Arthur’s faithful sidekick (and foley artist responsible for clapping coconut shells together whenever the king is astride his “horse”). Dumas gets the show’s best song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (which is lovingly ripped off from another Python film, The Life of Brian).

James Beaman as Sir Robin gets the show’s wackiest original number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” which also showcases Casey Nicholaw’s irreverent choreography – think drill team by way of Fosse by way of Vegas.

Du Prez’s eclectic score plays by the Broadway rules (gospel here, bombast there, spoof everywhere) and creates a thoroughly pleasant musical experience that, except for “Bright Side of Life” (music and lyrics by Idle), doesn’t linger much beyond the theater’s doors.

On opening night, a line during the gala wedding finale took on added weight in the wake of the California Supreme Court’s upholding of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. Prince Herbert and Lancelot, about to married, gaze into each other’s eyes, and Lancelot says: “Just think, Herbert, in a thousand years time, this will still be controversial.” It’s a line that was in the original production five years ago that, alas, is still funny today.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Monty Python’s Spamalot continues through July 5 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call (415) 512-7770 or visit www.shnsf.com for information.

Here’s a peek at the tour:

2 comments

  1. Great review. I love that title. House rocked last night what with Eric Idle coming up on stage when the cast took their bows. He got me singing the “Bright Side of Life” This was just a good as the musical I saw in New York several years ago. Also it was head and shoulders over the bus and truck tour I saw two years ago in Portland, Oregon. I never could have image seeing the theatre in Portland selling pretzels in the lobby and the audience eating them during a performance. Portland must have a thing for pretzels.

  2. George Maguire /

    LOVED IT!!!
    So happy that the Vegas act closed so that the SF could open.
    There is nothing wrong with silly – and everything right about laughter!
    Great review my friend!

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