Welcome to Britain, 932 A.D., where the forecast is plague with a 100 percent chance of pestilence and when the rubbish cart comes knocking, it matters not if you are not yet dead.
“Spamalot” (billed as “lovingly ripped off” from Eric Idle’s 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) is more a series of comic sketches than worthwhile story. That doesn’t much matter. Director L. Walter Stearns is faithful to this swamp of silliness by Idle (book, lyrics, music) and composer John Du Prez. Python’s beloved bits about rabbits (both killer and Trojan) and rude Frenchmen are in capable hands.
King Arthur (Jonah D. Winston, part Falstaff-part Henry V and in full possession of a baritone-to-tenor-range that demands respect) and his posse of Round Table Knights are front and center. Thus does it make unimpeachable sense that the big, wowie-zounds, knock-em-dead opening number is a (fake) Finnish folk tune about the (fake?) Scandinavian courtship tradition of smacking your betrothed in the kisser with a fish. If you thought you were at “Camelot,” you thought wrong.
As Arthur’s crew of miscreants trot across Europe on horses “visualized” by the clanking of coconut shells, they point out a few cow-sized holes in the plot. Why is the all-knowing, all-powerful God (seen a giant pair of feet) making them find His Holy Grail? Shouldn’t He already know where it is? Why is it called the “Middle Ages” when nothing comes after? Idle’s lyrics are just as snappy. Rhyming “Camelot” with “diaphragm a lot” stacks up just fine against any rose is a rose is a rose is whatever.
The script is self-aware enough to mock its biggest flaw — there’s only one woman on stage that talks, and she disappears for much of Act Two. That’s Meghan Murphy as Arthur’s muse, the Lady of the Lake. And surely we would all have an easier time of things if we had Murphy’s final, galvanizing belts in “Find Your Grail” as our daily time-get-out-of-bed ringtone. When she leans in to “The Diva’s Lament,” it’s like watching Vivian Lee declare she will never be hungry again — only Murphy’s singing and in a thankfully different context.
Everyone in Stearns’ multi-tracking supporting roles are double- or triple-cast. Greg Foster’s Patsy clip-clops his coconuts with aplomb and makes a touching sidekick. When Karl Hamilton’s Sir Lancelot comes out as gay, he radiates bearish enthusiasm. When Sir Dennis Galahad (David Sajewich) tosses his luscious locks, it’s with Breck Girl finesse and pageant-winner showmanship.
As Sir Robin, Adam Ross Brody is an elfin-faced usurper who has deposed the No. 1 Sir Robin on the list of seven that I’ve seen since this show had its pre-Broadway try-out here in 2005. When Robin talks (and sings and dances) about yearning to do a musical, it’s with that rare blend of utter sincerity and mesmerizing salesmanship that makes rich people throw money at causes they just realized they believe in.
Which brings us to Adam Fane as Not Dead Fred and Herbert, a gay prince who pines to be in musicals. Fane’s double-duty as both lifter and lift-ee in Shanna Vanderwerker’s appropriately goofy choreography is impressive. But when Herbert spits out the opening bars of Stephen Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People,” it’ll make you pine for a production of “Company” with Fane as Marta.
Lighting designer Denise Karczewski suffuses the stage in primary colors that complement Angie Weber Miller’s cartoon set (wherein the arches mimic the French knights’ cone-head headgear). Tim Hatley’s costumes are plentiful and varied, ranging from “Toxic”-era-Britney to 10th-century monk chic.
There are hiccups. Some of the costumes and most of the wigs are ill-fitting. Lines were miffed while cast members cracked up. A flamingo deflated at an inopportune moment. Given the material, it’s possible all that was on purpose so I’m going to allow it. A big chunk of this show, after all, is spent talking about how it will never be good enough for Broadway.
Moreover, there are life lessons embedded herein. Among them: Life is quite absurd and death’s the final word so you might as well try to stay on the bright side of the former. Where’s the lie?
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.