Play Review: Spamalot

Home Uncategorized Play Review: Spamalot
Play Review: Spamalot
512px-Spamalotlondon
Photo By: Redvers

 

Not Dead Yet

by J. Scott Southworth

This week, The Corsair has taken a break from film revues to cover a local theater production, this time the production of ‘Spamalot’ currently being produced by the Pensacola State College performing arts department. Details about the performance location and show times are available at the end of the article.

When the Monty Python comedy group began work in 1975 on a film titled, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they probably had no clue that they’d be making comedy history. The film was something completely different than their usual fare, dropping a certain amount of the surrealism in favor of a more cohesive narrative built around and overarching theme. The success of the film is not without its ironies, however. The Python’s were known for their improvisation, creativity and knack for subverting audience expectations. Monty Python and the Holy Grail, by contrast, has become something of a sacred cow to fans of comedy and medieval films alike. The film is so often quoted in some communities that one could easily make a drinking game out of it.

This sort of familiarity comes with a price. Comedy thrives on the unexpected, but it’s hard to be unpredictable when adapting to something with such a cult following as Monty Python and the Holy Grail has gathered. This is the dilemma that no doubt must be faced by any theater brave enough to venture a production of Spamalot, the musical loose adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail penned in the early 2000’s by none other than former Python member, Eric Idle. Fans of the film and of previous Spamalot productions will be glad to hear that the same style, manner, pacing, and even the style of speaking voices for characters or individual lines have all been rigorously maintained by the actors performing at Pensacola State College this year. Fans of inventive comedy, on the other hand, will be disappointed by the lack of surprises. The production of Spamalot, showing at PSC’s Ashmore Auditorium, is good lucking, mostly well-performed and very funny. Just don’t go expecting anything “completely different” this time around.

But don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad show. The sets and costumes perfectly accentuate the ramshackle nature of the play, looking just thrown-together enough to be funny even by themselves (the film was also famous for making good use of rough appearances – neither the coconut-clapping Patsy nor the anticlimax at the end were planned in the script original script, but were instead inventive and highly successful ways to deal with a production in serious danger of going over-budget). And while the jokes may be old, they are generally still very funny. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the Pythons or with their famous skewering of Arthurian legends is in for quite a treat and those who are familiar will find that the humor has not lost much in its transition to the stage and may have gained some things as well – Spamalot adds to its list of targets musicals, popular celebrities, and Broadway in general.

Many of the production’s greatest strengths lie in areas where the play differs from the film. A spirited performance of “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” – a playfully over-the-top joshing of the large number of Jewish comics and musicians who have worked in theater over the years – was one of the production’s brightest moments on the night that I visited. Some of the similarities aren’t bad, either. Mario Dante Cieri’s performance as King Arthur is a superb rendition of a classic comedic “straight man” role (the “straight man” in comedy is a character that is played largely seriously in contrast with the absurd characters and/or situations around him) and the reliability of his performance creates an excellent foundation for the rest of the action to build around. A number of the set-pieces and props are fantastic as well – I was quite pleased to note that for the siege of the French castle scene, the props department has constructed what appears to be a fully functional Giant Trojan Rabbit.

This is not to say the show is without any weak points in terms of quality. Despite strong performances from the majority of the cast, there were a number of vocal flubs during some of the more challenging numbers song numbers, notably during “The Song That Goes Like This” and “Twice in Every Show.” Similarly, the French soldiers during the castle siege scene spoke with an accent that seemed less a parody of “Hollywood French” types of accents than it was a bizarre blend of French and Spanish accents combined with and an American Southern drawl. I don’t know if these aspects were intentional – it can be hard to tell with comedy at times – but if they were, I’m not sure what they accomplished in terms of the play.

But I don’t want to be a spoilsport, or scare away potential viewers who would be likely to enjoy the production despite its flaws. Even if they exist, it’s quite possible that many more casual members of the audience either won’t notice them or will be enough enamored by the production’s strong points that they won’t seem to be of much consequence. For dedicated fans of either Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Spamalot itself, the show at Ashmore Auditorium is unquestionably worth seeing. It’s nothing fresh or new and there’s little at all that’s unexpected, but this is nonetheless one production that is most emphatically not dead yet.

‘Spamalot’ is showing this weekend, Nov. 14-17, 2013. Tickets are available on-site. Ashmore Auditorium is located on College Blvd., Pensacola, FL. More information can be found at http://www.pensacolastate.edu/mt/.

Leave a Reply