- PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO
- ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE : King Arthur (Joseph Cannon, left) and his squire Patsy (Billy Breed) do a little cheering-up song in PCPA’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, directed by Michael Barnard.
Spamalot, the official Broadway rip-off of 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is on the one hand, complete and total comfort food. The most memorable scenes and lines from the film are all there, and there’s a collective shiver of anticipation when the audience senses one of them coming. The payoff is, of course, rapturous: “African or European swallow?” (Yes!) “I fart in your general direction!” (Joy!) “There are some who call me … Tim.” (Hallelujah!) “One … two … five!” (A thousand hosannas!)
But while Spamalot’s appeal is clearly rooted in the time-tested magic of its source material, there’s a lot that’s new about this musical adaptation by original Monty Python member Eric Idle (music co-written by Idle and John Du Prez). A good deal of Spamalot, which itself premiered on Broadway in 2005, mocks Broadway musicals, with the extremely meta “The Song That Goes Like This” dissecting the saccharine love songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber: I’ll sing it in your face/While we both embrace/And then we change the key?/Now we’re into E!
A PCPA production of Spamalot, directed by Michael Barnard and currently playing at the Solvang Festival Theater, stars Joseph Cannon as King Arthur, rider of coconuts, who, with his squire Patsy (a wonderfully cast Billy Breed), embarks on a quest for the Holy Grail. You know, the cup Jesus drank out of at the last supper, which evidently God has misplaced or something.
Arthur has been given Excalibur and proclaimed King by the Lady of the Lake, so he and Patsy set out looking for men (opportunities to make gay jokes are not wasted) to join their court at Camelot.
The wonderful “Bring out yer dead!” scene introduces Sir Robin (Michael Jenkinson) and the homicidally brave Sir Lancelot (Erik Stein; totally killing it as usual), who decide to enlist as Knights of the Round Table. (Robin is visibly disappointed to learn that being a knight involves fighting, and not just dressing up and dancing, until Lancelot suggests that “some fights might have a bit of dancing.”) Meanwhile, Not Dead Fred (Paul Henry, who also plays the “historian” who narrates the production, as well as the cross-dressing Prince Herbert) is killed … repeatedly.
An encounter between King Arthur and the lowly mud farmer Dennis (George Walker) delivers a bit of backstory as to how Arthur came to be King in the first place. The exchange is so funny we hardly mind, or even notice, this bit of exposition: Arthur explains about Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake, and Dennis simply doesn’t buy it, protesting, “You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!”
But a visit from the Lady of the Lake (Karin Hendricks, parodying a certain pop star) herself, flanked by her “Laker Girls,” convinces the doubting Dennis, who joins King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, becomes Sir Galahad, and is thereafter seen with a much fancier wig on.
Thus, King Arthur and his men head for Camelot. Graham Chapman’s Arthur may have sniffed at it in the 1975 film (“On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.”), but in Spamalot the men spend a good deal of stage time reveling in its Las Vegas-esque delights--until God breaks up the party.
Personified by a giant pair of feet projected onto the walls of the outdoor auditorium, God gives King Arthur his quest, which the Knights of the Round Table, being literalists, have difficulty understanding.
“We must all look within us,” says Arthur; “Somebody swallowed it?” exclaims Robin, incredulous.
By this point, I might add, the audience is pretty much drunk on Monty Python, lulled into that wonderfully silly, sort of laugh-y state of being where pretty much anything and everything is hilarious. And once Spamalot has drawn you into its utter loopiness, it has a habit of milking it a little, dallying here and there in songs that are utterly unashamed of being pure filler; dazzling you with its sparkling sets (scenic designer DeAnne Kennedy has gone above and beyond) and many wardrobe changes (props to costume designer Frederick P. Deeben!).
But the comedic timing here is so superb, and the beloved scenes so lovingly brought to life, that we simply don’t care. We’re drunk. We’ll eat anything.
The old favorites keep coming, of course. The knights are ruthlessly taunted by Frenchmen, and unfortunately forget the principle behind the wooden rabbit. We encounter the Knights Who Say Ni, who demand “a shrubbery.” Elsewhere, brave Sir Robin runs away, and the Black Knight gets his limbs cut off, dismissing this injury as “flesh wound.”
Newer material includes the number “The Diva’s Lament,” which sees the Lady of the Lake wondering, “Whatever happened to my part?” An admittedly rather grabby twist of events results in the knights being required to put on a Broadway show, which gives them cause to sing the apt “You Won’t Succeed in Broadway” (…if you don’t have any Jews, the song goes on to say). In perhaps the most inspired of the newer numbers, Sir Lancelot, well, leaves no questions remaining as to his long-rumored gayness. Stein is magnificent; his face saying one thing and his body--much to his character’s chagrin--saying quite another thing entirely, in the energetic “His Name is Lancelot.”
The ending of Spamalot is a bit ridiculous, though certainly no more than the ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (as you might recall, they sort of … couldn’t think of one). And when it’s all over, the audience wanders giddily out into the night, sort of high on the whole experience, whistling “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” at complete strangers. The ushers all smile tolerantly, like: Oookay audience, I think you’ve had enough fun for the night. That’s right. OK. Go home, audience. You’re drunk.
Arts Editor Anna Weltner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.