Theater
Review
"Monty Python's Spamalot"

Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Book and lyrics by: Eric Idle
Music by: John Du Prez and Idle
Featuring: Russ Bohard as King Arthur, Paul Araquistain as Patsy, Ray Mendonca as Sir Robin, Russell Ward as Sir Lancelot, Thomas Ignatius as Sir Galahad, Tracy Chaippone as Lady of the Lake, Lawrence-Michael Arias as Sir Bedevere, Steven Ennis as Herbert, Ron Lopez as Character Male, and Foster City Police Chief Matthew Martell as The Black Knight. The ensemble includes Pauli Amornkul, Jennifer Butler, Evelyn Chan, Alyson Chilton, Amanda Ross, Jennifer Young, Jason Hobart, Loren Gonzales, Aristotle Justice McDaniel and Jacob Marker
Directed by: Dan Demers
When: August 30-September 22, 2013. Extended through September 29, 2013
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City, California
Tickets:$23-$40. Call 650-349-6411 or visit hillbarntheatre.org

Read a pre-opening interview with director Dan Demers

Someone Dark Has Found Me link

Spamalot
Russ Bohard as King Arthur in Hillbarn Theatre's presentation of "Monty Python's Spamalot." The show runs August 30-September 22, 2013.
'Monty Python's Spamalot' a hilarious triumph at Hillbarn
A great cast and excellent creative direction make for a can't-miss production
September 1, 2013

I know this is a silly idea, but on Saturday night, I was worried about everybody in the San Francisco Bay Area who was not at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.

Because the Hillbarn production of "Monty Python's Spamalot" is so much fun it felt like the entire Bay Area had been tilted in such a way that all the fun poured into the Hillbarn, and there couldn't have been any left for anybody else.

It's a hilarious, great show to begin with, with book and lyrics by Monty Python's Eric Idle, and music by Idle and John Du Prez, based on the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

And for this show, which opens Hillbarn's 73rd season, director Dan Demers has put together a mostly excellent cast of 20 that takes on the 24 roles called for in the script. And ... updated the original 2005, multiple-Tony-winning play to add sly references to pop entertainment that have evolved since then.

It is a very silly show.

It opens, for instance, with a historian giving a brief overview of medieval England, followed by the "Fisch Schlapping Song," with Finnish villagers hitting each other with fish until the historian returns and says "England, not Finland!" and the fish-slappers are immediately replaced by hooded monks trooping through, smacking themselves in the head with huge books that may be Bibles.

And then King Arthur arrives, pretending to gallop on a horse that doesn't exist, with his faithful servant, Patsy, following behind making horse-hooves clip-clopping sounds with a pair of empty coconut shells.

Already, so much nutty stuff has happened that logic must flee the building in panic, and pure enjoyment at the goofy gags reigns.

Russ Bohard is an excellent King Arthur. He has an absolutely beautiful voice, for one thing, and always takes this being king thing very seriously. Given the completely silly things he has to do — slicing the arms and legs off the never-say-die Black Knight, clopping off to find a shrubbery for the Knights Who Say "Ni" and singing "I'm All Alone" while Patsy tries to get his attention — the role works because Bohard stays in King Arthur's serious mindset.

His costume, by the way, by Mae Matos, is a thing of beauty, with its thin, golden mail and gloves.

"How do you know he's king?" one guard asks another. "Because he's not covered in shit."

Paul Araquistain is a great Patsy. For one thing, he does seem to be covered with shit, and although he has very little actual dialogue, he is always a strong presence on stage because of what he does with his face. Hilarious, excellent comic performance.

Russell Ward makes a fatally handsome Sir Lancelot, whose fate herein is a surprise, and is completely hilarious as the taunting French guard.

Steven Ennis goes completely over the top as Herbert, who pines for a handsome knight to carry him away from his cruel father, and completely over the top is exactly how that role should be played. Very, very funny stuff. Ennis also played the historian, Not Dead Fred and the lead minstrel.

Tracy Chiappone, as the Lady of the Lake, brings some of the best satire of modern singers to the mix, thoroughly skewering the sort of vocal gymnastics seen all too often on such shows as "American Idol." She shows up in Act II, complaining about being offstage too long, to sing "Whatever happened to my part? It seems to me they've really lost the plot."

Chiappone has a duet, "The Song That Goes Like This," with Thomas Ignatius in Act I, which she reprises with Bohard as King Arthur in Act II, that is one of those goofy but wonderfully funny things that require straight performances. Wonderful.

Ron Lopez Jr. was very funny as the tall Knight Who Says "Ni" and as Tim the Enchanter, and brilliant as the Mime.

Kudos also to Ray Mendonca, Ignatius, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias and the rest of the cast. The Monty Python-produced video promo for this show promises, among other things, beautiful women, and this show is certainly populated with them. Pauli N. Amornkul, Jennifer Butler, Evelyn Chan, Alyson Chilton, Amanda Ross and Jennifer Young were all delightful, beautiful and attractive in their wide-ranging dance numbers, from being Laker Girls to being Camelot dancers ("What happens in Camelot stays in Camelot") to being — what? bridesmaids in their underwear? — for the number "We Are Not Yet Wed."

Part of the fun begins with Kuo-Hao Lo's fabulous set. The audience walks in from the lobby across a castle courtyard, the castle ramparts stretching off to the distance behind them. There are only 179 seats at the Hillbarn, everyone with good sightlines and within easy hearing distance. It has to be said that seeing this show, in this space, is better than seeing the huge Broadway tour that came through the Bay Area a few years ago. It's more fun to be right there with the cast.

The costumes, overall, were great for their parts, and funny. Something I liked quite a bit is that most of the men are just wearing their regular street shoes most of the time. The music is the Monty Python-produced soundtrack, with such things as tap-dancing noises added in, and it was goofy fun to watch people doing fairly simple dance moves in black athletic and walking shoes with rubber soles while accompanied by the sound of fancy tap-dancing.

It has to be pointed out that director Demers, on Saturday, at least, was bearing tuxedo pants topped by a regular shirt, tie and a sweater vest.

Foster City Chief of Police Matt Martell played The Black Knight. Sadly, on the night I saw, there were multiple problems with his costume, which is a tricky piece of work. A funny bit of satire about people who can play hurt, The Black Knight's arms and legs are all chopped off, and some of them started falling early. Oh well. That will probably get sorted out. Martell didn't deliver his lines as strongly as they require. Maybe that will improve, too.

And ... King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was missing in Act II.

Still, overall, this is a truly great production, and a must-see for anybody who likes fun.


Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Spamalot
Mark Kitaoka / markkitaoka.com
The cast of "Spamalot" in Hillbarn Theatre's production. From left in front are Paul Araquistain as Patsy, Ray Mendonca as Sir Robin, Russ Bohard as King Arthur, Tracy Chiappone as Lady of the Lake, Russell Ward as Sir Lancelot, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias as Sir Belvedere and Jennifer Young as a Laker Girl
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Spamalot
Russell Ward as the French Taunter in Hillbarn Theatre's Presentation of "Monty Python's Spamalot."
Steve Ennis, Jason Hobart, Ray Mendonca, Jacob Marker and Evelyn Chan, from left, as Sir Robin and his minstrels in Hillbarn Theatre's production of "Monty Python's Spamalot."


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