Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Monty Python's Spamalot
In its second visit to Washington, Monty Python's Spamalot is as blissfully demented as ever. From killer rabbits to catapulted cattle, from outrageously silly disguises to intentionally cheesy scenic effects even erotic displays of food the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2005 gives the audience at the National Theatre everything it expects and more.
Fans of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the 1974 movie from which the musical was "lovingly ripped off" by original Python Eric Idle (book, lyrics, music) and John Du Prez (music), will find many of the movie's scenes approximated onstage, but there's a lot for non-Python fans to appreciate as well. The authors have fun with the conventions of the Broadway musical, tossing in gags at the expense of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim and shows from Fiddler on the Roof to Les Miserables.
The story is fairly simple: the legendary King Arthur (Michael Siberry) seeks the Holy Grail with the help of knights, including hair-tossing Sir Galahad (Ben Davis), "homicidally brave" Sir Lancelot (Patrick Heusinger) and Sir Robin (Robert Petkoff), who may not have what it takes to be a successful knight. Overseeing the quest is the Lady of the Lake (Esther Stilwell), serving as guide, protector and one magnificent diva.
The cast members all understand that the key to their performances is to take things as seriously as possible. Siberry anchors the show with resolve and resignation, as the straight man surrounded by zanies, and Stilwell succeeds in displaying both abundant sex appeal (helped by Tim Hatley's stunning costume designs) and sharp comic timing.
Other standouts include Jeff Dumas as King Arthur's put-upon servant (he won the Helen Hayes Award for this role in the tour's previous visit) and Christopher Sutton in several roles, including the song-loving Prince Herbert. In keeping with Monty Python tradition, several of the performers are unrecognizable as they switch among their characters: Davis is Prince Herbert's rugged father and the delusional Black Knight as well as golden-haired Galahad, and Heusinger gets to throw insults in an ostentatiously fake French accent, stand 12 feet tall as the Knight of Ni and disco dance in tights and a silver sequined codpiece.
Mike Nichols' solid direction and Casey Nicholaw's frenetic, eclectic choreography keep the energy high throughout. While Spamalot may have momentary slow periods, something new is always just ahead, or to the side, or falling from the ceiling.
The National Theatre