Music by: John Do Prez and Eric Idle
Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Directed and choreographed by: Andrew Ceglio
Tap choreography by: Stephanie Bayer
Music direction by: Katie Coleman
Featuring: Eric Borchers, Joey McDaniel, Michael Monagle, Josiah Frampton, Brad Satterwhite, Nick Kenrick, Chris Mahle, Juliet Green, Jimmy Ashmore, Eric Idle, Melissa Baxter, Sarah Liz Amoroso, Stephanie Bayer, Alysia N. Beltran, Michelle Skinner, Kaitlin Zablotsky
Running time: 126 minutes, one intermission
When: April 28 through May 14, 2017
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre,
Tickets: $25-$55 (discounts available. Call 650-329-0891 or visit http://www.paplayers.org/on-stage-now
in 'Monty Python's Spamalot'
but we can hope PA Players will polish it into a jewel
"Monty Python's Spamalot" is hugely popular, and pretty much every theater company of sufficient resources in the Bay Area has attempted it.
Now it is the turn of Palo Alto Players, and while this was a creaky, problematic production on opening night, it has two excellent things going for it: A great cast, and Eric Idle's brilliant book and lyrics, which are based on various Monty Python projects, especially the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
The nine-piece orchestra would be listed among the excellent if it weren't for how often it overwhelmed the dialogue and lyrics. Perhaps sound designer Grant Huberty wasn't able to tame the chronically troublesome sound issues in the Lucie Stern Theatre. Certainly it is comprised of excellent musicians, including the trumpet player who did great with the musical gags of the overture, including getting "shot" and "dying." Funny stuff.
The lighting, by Rick Amerson, was tragic on opening night, with dark scenes that should have been lit, dingy light on Nikolaj Sorensen's serviceable but worn-looking set, and unreadable words on the sing-along bit at the end of the show.
Costumes, coordinated by Melissa Sanchez, ran the gamut from bright and excellent to dull and uninspiring.
But those issues were not enough to dim the enthusiasm of the opening night audience, which applauded, laughed and cheered as the excellent cast made the most of the hilarious script. And, delightfully, all the speaking-role cast members had wonderful British accents not just any British accents, but Monty Python accents, which worked great at delivering the gags.
Michael Monagle was excellent as King Arthur, with that role's needed mix of narcissism, bluster and goofiness. He even looked a little like a Python, though not like Graham Chapman, who played the role in "Holy Grail," but more like Eric Idle.
Monagle was excellent in "Chicago" at the Players in 2015, and is excellent here.
The story of this play is that King Arthur is traveling around Great Britain, explaining that he is King of the Britons to people who mostly don't care and are hard to convince. He does look like a king though, as a sentry points out, because he isn't covered in shit. He gathers a few knights around him, and God recorded voice of Eric Idle gives him a quest: to find the Holy Grail.
The show opens with a historian giving a lecture about medieval England, which I know because I've seen other productions. On opening night, Eric Borchers as the historian could not be heard over the orchestra. The cast comes out and performs the "Fisch Schlapping Song," until the historian comes out again and says that he had said "ENGland, not FINland!" Then the fish-slappers depart, and monks parade through, bonking themselves in the head with Bibles.
The show is an endless circus of truly funny satire that pokes fun at British traditions and history, and modern pretty much anything, from "I Am Not Dead Yet" sung in a Plague Village to the Lady of the Lake and the Laker Girls singing "Come With Me" to "Knights of the Round Table" in a Camelot that is more like Las Vegas, to "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (without some Jews)".
The songs are part of the satire, especially the ballad, "The Song That Goes Like This," which has a dramatic melody line but is meaningless, and "The Diva's Lament" (or, "Whatever Happened to My Part?") sung when the Lady of the Lake feels like she's been off stage too long.
Other great tunes include "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," "Find Your Grail" and "I'm All Alone."
Josiah Frampton was fun to watch as Sir Robin and in two other roles, not just because he has a gift for comedic acting and is a fine singer, but also because he looks a lot like Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) in Marvel's "Captain America" franchise.
Brad Satterwhite, who has starred in a number of roles at Foster City's excellent Hillbarn Theatre, makes his Players debut as Sir Lancelot and three other roles. He brings talent and commitment to every role.
Nick Kenrick was fun as Sir Dennis Galahad, the Black Knight and as Prince Herbert's Father, going from mud farmer to gallant knight with panache and a good change of costume.
Eric Borchers was hilarious at Prince Herbert, especially, and also as a Minstrel who sings of Sir Robin's many possible eviscerations, and as Not Dead Fred.
Chris Mahle was nearly unviewable as Sir Belvedere, in a big visored helmet, but was very funny as Dennis's mother.
Joey McDaniel seemed oddly restrained as Patsy, servant to King Arthur. He's the one who makes the clop-clop noise of horses' hooves with coconut shells as he and the king gallop along without real horses. Still, McDaniel had a really funny bit, as a dying guard at the Swamp Castle, and did a fine job singing and dancing for "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," but otherwise seemed like a 40-watt bulb when he is usually a 100-watt kind of performer.
Juliet Green brought some impressive jazz chops to her performance as the Lady of the Lake. The role is usually played as more of a traditional Broadway sort of tune, but her jazz inflections were quite good, and a welcome change.
This is director Andrew Ceglio's first effort in any capacity with "Spamalot," he said in a recent interview, and his take on it makes for a few changes.
This show does not insist on chopping off the Black Knight's legs, as do some productions, which opens the door too often to failed stage gear. He let chopping off the knight's arms suffice, and it's still a funny bit.
And instead of the "very expensive forest" of most productions, dialogue here says "very inexpensive forest," which is still funny, and closer to the truth.
And the best of Ceglio's changes, or those of properties designer Scott Ludwig, is the killer rabbit in Act II, which at first still looks like a cutesy stuff animal, but shows big teeth and a bloody mouth after decapitating a knight.
A bet was missed in Act I with the Laker Girls, though, whose costumes were more generic than those of the real cheerleaders for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It seemed like mischief might be afoot to those of us who are familiar with this show when a man was led down the aisle at intermission and placed very specifically in a certain seat. Sure enough, it turned out that his seat was the one chosen for one of the show's gags, when an audience member is brought on stage and his/her photograph is made with the cast.
But he wasn't exactly a ringer. Players Managing Director Elizabeth Santana explained in email on Sunday evening. "So, truth be told, we noticed at intermission that we didn't have anyone in (that seat), so my intern had her boyfriend go sit there."
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org