Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Monty Python's Spamalot

Landmark Musicals
Review by Carla Cafolla

Also see Carole's review of The Cake and Dean's reviews of Shakespeare in Hollywood and Newsies


William Strohl, Courtney Awe, William Lang,
and Max Woltman

Photo by Max Woltman
Somewhere in the 1960s, six highly educated men—five British (Cambridge/Oxford) and one American (Occidental)—joined forces to poke fun at the existing British establishment/prevailing politics/religion, and the hoi-polloi in general. Their TV series, aired on the BBC from 1969 to 1974, was named "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Their humor, an unnerving mix of sketches featuring satire, black comedy, classical erudite references, and bawdy wit, proved impossible to pigeonhole, thereby coining the word "Pythonesque."

Fast-forward some 35 years, when along came the grandchild of the original "Flying Circus" troupe, bred from the bowels of the '70s movie spin-off Monty Python and the Holy Grail (and one song from The Life of Brian): the timeless and much-loved musical, brainchild of one of the original Pythons, Eric Idle, Spamalot, which debuted in 2004.

At Landmark Musicals, an 11-piece orchestra led by resident conductor Darby Fegan plays a musical medley transporting us back to dear old England. There, with smooth vitality (despite a duet of barely discernible assassination attempts), ascends a musical production by performers who confidently and cheerfully deliver a resounding theatrical comedy.

Lacking the ability to accurately describe this unapologetic larceny, I offer this summary: King Arthur, commanded directly by God and accompanied by his assistant, travels though his kingdom to find knights to aid him in his search for the Holy Grail. And—spoiler alert—he succeeds in his mission. The End.

With appreciatively more detail, staying close to the original Holy Grail movie and including a significant number of current and local pop culture references to keep it fresh, Spamalot also brings in a new character, The Lady of the Lake, while expanding two characters roles: Not Dead Fred, and Patsy. Fast paced and nimbly directed here by Gary Bearly, it begins at the Finnish (just go see it and you'll understand) and wraps-up with a delightfully glitzy and collective psychosis.

In many ways this is a pantomime for adults. It really is terribly funny, ridiculously bonkers, and completely irreverent. Staying this side of family-friendly, including enough farting references and sound effects to amuse the youngsters, Spamalot also contains an abundance of innuendo and outright comedy to entertain Python fans and newcomers alike. At its core, the plot is rather thin, but that's rather the point of this medieval mayhem. Non sequiturs abound; isolated, inappropriate, and celestial events occur with such shambolic charm as to appear routine; and there is a surprise "Holder of the Holy Grail" appearance toward the end.

Our hero, King Arthur, portrayed by William Lang, is a hapless, horseless nit-wit. Lang has good stage presence, a rich singing voice, and features in at least 10 of the 21 numbers as King Arthur roams though the realm. Any attempt to explain a collection of sketches—the homicidal and sexually confused Sir Lancelot; the memorable antics and beautiful vocals of Courtney Awe as the sassy Lady of the Lake; village idiots galore; Beau Brennon's "He Is Not Dead Yet," in which he nails the song and dance routine, and his hysterical Herbert histrionics; The Knights of Ni; the nun and monk giving it a whirl; the requisite Borden-esque bunny; Max Woltman's Sir Robin, who, realizing it is better to be a coward for a moment than dead for the rest of his life, belts out my companion's favorite number, "You Won't Succeed On Broadway"; The Laker girls, resplendent in their flowing green weeds, and their many, many other energetic song and dance numbers—could not do the show justice. Seriously, who wouldn't love to be immortalized by the French Taunter's (Jess Walter Stafford) line "Wipers of other people's bottoms"? Or Brother Maynard's (Tim Nuzum) reference to "Holy hand grenades"? You just have to see it for yourself.

Casting is excellent for this zippy production. There are many standout moments, but the hands down top standout performer is Mackenzee Donham Stradling. Her portrayal of Patsy (an insignificant mute male character in the original film, expanded for the musical) is terrific. In Stradling's care, this weary, gap-toothed, supportive, cheeky, coconut-clacking, and put-upon aide to the King is faultless. From her facial expressions, her attempts to boost the flagging royal spirits, and her cheery melodic and tap-dancing routine on "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" to her animated and spirited reaction to King Arthur's plaintive quavering of "I'm All Alone," she charms her way into the hearts of all, and stays there.

By the time you read this, the occasional sound glitches (feedback and sporadic drowning of vocals) should be a faded memory. With everything from send-ups of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals to Trojan hares, famine, pestilence, energetic corpses, suicidal, in-denial black knights, and ribbons of blood, Monty Python's Spamalot is even better onstage than the original television program, making this live-orchestrated comedy the best ticket value in town.

I have nothing but admiration for the crew who work on this production. Designed by Emmy Award winner Dahl Delu, the staging caricatures reality, and, combined with Ken Gant's rear projections, lighting and sound design by Jon Glasrud and Simon Welter, respectively, creates a bewitching fairy-tale world in picturesque synchronicity with its inhabitants. Choreography by Courtney and Louis Gianinni is stellar—it is difficult to reconcile the few weeks of rehearsal with the onstage pizzazz. Costume design by Emily Melville must have been a mammoth undertaking, there are so many changes, notwithstanding the makeup and wig transformations (makeup team of Angela Flores, Maria Earls, and Marilyn Lafer; hair and wig design by Kandy Thorn and Michele Cappel), yet glitz and glamor (and humor) abound. Props by the masterful duo Jasmine Lyons and Carrie Tafoya-Hess are another epic mission. Not to mention the task of reassembling all the components for repeat performances by stage manager Rachel Nelson-Schille, assistant stage manager Trey Caperton, and deck chief John A. Craig. Their work is truly commendable.

Spamalot is a great deal of fun. Don't miss it.

Monty Python's Spamalot, through August 4, 2019, at Landmark Musicals, Rodey Theatre, Popejoy Hall, UNM campus, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $22-$26. For tickets and information, visit landmarkmusicals.org.


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