“Monty Python’s Spamalot” is a wildly funny romp through medieval England as envisioned by Eric Idle of Python fame, replete with crude humor, topical references, brilliant songs, crazy sets and costumes, and a lot of word play.
With book and lyrics by Idle and music by Idle and John Du Prez, the play is a loosely adapted version of the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” with comic bits from other Python shows such as the “Fisch Schlapping” song from their television series and a delightful rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from “Life of Brian.”
Before the show, I spoke to the director, John Munn, who said he thought the costly sets and costumes and polished performance of the Broadway musical were not true to the look and spirit of Monty Python, so he went for a more tossed-together look and feel, which works wonderfully in the smaller, more intimate space of Lakewood Playhouse.
The set by Lex Gernon with scene painting by Gernon and Stephanie Huber has a marvelously amateurish look with painted clouds hanging on wires from the ceiling. The costumes by Diane Runkel are appropriately funny, the music by music director Deborah Lynn Armstrong is outstanding, and the acting by a huge cast is a delightful mix of slapdash and skilled performances. These are accomplished actors who purposely act badly in spots and relatively inexperienced actors whose lack of polish is obvious, and outside of the principle characters it is almost impossible to tell which is which.
In a brilliant move, Munn used actors as stagehands playing the part of stagehands pretending to be actors. These included Huber, recently seen in Lakewood Playhouse’s “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and Kira Zinck, who was outstanding in “Children’s Hour.” Listed as “Tech Support,” these actors and others not listed in the program move props around and also come out in costume (or often partially costumed mixed with the black clothing of stagehands) to sing and dance and take part in comic bits. They, along with Casi Wilkerson’s choreography, make what would otherwise be cumbersome set changes flow like wine.
I almost didn’t recognize Steve Tarry as King Arthur. He seems to have the ability to take on the physical appearance of whatever character he portrays, a prime example being his Richard Nixon at Tacoma Little Theatre three years ago. He convincingly plays King Arthur as majestically unwise.
Gretchen Boyt as The Lady of the Lake is regal and suave when she’s not being incredibly silly and pretentious. She sings beautifully when not honking and growling like a teenage boy going through voice change. Purposefully singing badly in spots takes real talent – she makes bad beautiful.
Xander Layden is comic gold as a gay Sir Lancelot and other characters, as is Gary J. Chambers as an intellectually snobbish and politically radical Sir Dennis Galahad and other characters.
There are so many others I could give kudos to, from the “Laker Girls” to the Male Ensemble, but the one above all others I cannot leave out is Coleman Hagerman as Arthur’s coconut-shell-clapping servant, Patsy. I will not go so far as to say he steals the show, because there are so many other notable actors on stage. Practically every move Hagerman makes brings on peals of laughter. It’s hard to imagine slapstick comedy as being nuanced, but he manages that. His timing, gestures and facial expressions are flawless. When he speaks, he brings back memories of Eric Idle, and his rendition of “The Bright Side of Life” is one of many highlights of a show that includes slapping each other with fish and throwing cows off castles.
The house was sold out opening night and there are few tickets left for upcoming performances. I highly recommend calling for advance tickets as soon as possible.