Friday, August 7, 2009

REVIEW: Spamalot

With our young children now getting older, after a long hiatus from live theater (aside from the occasional forays), my wife and I subscribed this year to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for the 2009-10 season. The first show we saw was "Spamalot," running until September 6.

Based, of course, on the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (one of the first films I saw as an adolescent with buddies and without adult supervision), "Spamalot" is great fun and a real crowd pleaser. With book and lyrics by Python member Eric Idle, and directed by noted film and stage director Mike Nichols, the show retains much from the original movie, both literally and in spirit. The most recognizable and funniest bits of the film have been kept in the show to keep fans happy (of which you can imagine there were many in the audience), but there also is enough new material (and, of course, songs) to make it fresh and not just a cheap retread.

It's a wonderful tribute to the production that the show feels comfortably familiar despite providing a very different through-line from the movie. The characters are somewhat more defined and are given a small semblance of a character arc to help carry the story. The most significant departure is the addition of the Lady of the Lake as a major character. So while feeling totally familiar and faithful, I would guess that at least 50% of the material is new and not from the film.

Again, to keep the material fresh, the show expands on some of the familiar material. One example are the French taunters—knowing that this sequence is one of the best known in the film, the actors playing the Frenchmen go over the top and milk their gestures and taunting for maximum laughs. Another personal favorite song of mine, "Knights of the Round Table," is expanded into a huge Vegas extravaganza. ("What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot.") As you can imagine, the play had great fun with anachronistic devices like this, which particularly made the choreography hilarious.

Much of the comedy (and the story's impetus) comes from the fact that the show is very self-conscious about being a stage show. The Lady of the Lake is a stage diva, which gives the performer in the role, Merle Dandridge, a chance to show off her singing chops, which were indeed impressive.

Overall, a fun and memorable show—the 2009-10 season at the Ahmanson is off to a great start!

And as a tribute to the original film, one of my favorite bits:

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