Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego


Monty Python's Spamalot has been a big hit on tour, and Talkin' Broadway regional reviewers have given it quite a bit of attention.  It has been reviewed at stops in Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Miami, Dallas, Washington, DC (twice), Seattle, and most recently San Francisco.  Mostly, the reviewers has been positive about the show and the tour production, so that doesn't leave a lot for a late-coming San Diegan to say.  But, let me try, just a little.

The Cast of Spamalot

First, while the source material for Spamalot may be the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (with the addition of the hit song, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" from The Life of Brian), the show is really a paean to Broadway.  It offers a pastiche of Broadway performance styles, and the score samples Broadway greats such as Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.  Broadway even becomes a major plot element in act two, which allows for more parody to come forth.

Second, Spamalot's humor is oftentimes "meta," which means that it comments on the situation in which the characters find themselves.  Sometimes, the humor is about the fact that the company is putting on a show, sometimes it is about what is going on in the plot, the sets or with the characters themselves, and sometimes it is about that particular performance, including the audience (or something local—and these jokes are "improvised" by the cast).   This type of humor can wear quickly, and it is to the cast's credit that the wear is minimal.

Third, the Python sketches that are lifted from the film are so familiar to fans that they are applauded and (almost) spoken along with the cast (at the performance I attended, the audience whistled along with "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" when it was performed at the beginning of the second act and sang along lustily with it during the curtain call).  The fact that these bits are so well known doesn't give the actors a lot of leeway in how they are performed (lest they risk the wrath of the crowd for deviating from the film).  As a result, some of the more extended pieces (such as The Knights of Ni) fall flat.

What saves Spamalot, ultimately, is Casey Nicholaw's choreography, which is clever, energetic and frequent (this is a hard-working cast).  Mike Nichols' direction sparkles as well, under what I am sure is the careful eye of Production Stage Manager Kenneth J. Davis.

In San Diego, Christopher Gurr has stepped back into the role of King Arthur.  Mr. Gurr usually understudies the role (and performs Dennis' Mother, Sir Bedevere and Concorde) when the producers bring in another star for certain markets (television actor John O'Hurley played the role in the recent San Francisco and Los Angeles engagements), and he is a reliable and amiable central character.  If he is a bit bland, perhaps the show is written that way, with a fair amount of lunacy going on around him (courtesy in particular of his compatriots Jeff Dumas, James Beaman, Matthew Greer and Ben Davis).  Ensemble members Lenny Daniel (who is now understudying Mr. Gurr) and Matt Allen (who is now playing the Nun) have been given greater responsibilities as the tour moved 130 miles south.  Merle Dandridge made an unmemorable first entrance as The Lady of the Lake (perhaps due to a sound or light glitch—there seemed to be several such glitches, all minor, on press night), but her belt came through loud and strong on such "meta" numbers as "The Song That Goes Like This," and "The Diva's Lament."

Don't skip reading the program—it will keep you highly entertained while you are waiting for the show to begin.

Monty Python's Spamalot plays through Sunday, September 13, at the Civic Theatre in downtown San Diego. Tickets $18-$87, available at the Civic Theatre Ticket Office, (619) 570-1100, Ticketmaster, (800) 982-2787, or at

Broadway San Diego presents Monty Python's Spamalot, book by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, directed by Mike Nichols with choreography by Casey Nicholaw.  Set and costume design by Tim Harley, lighting design by Hugh Vanstone, sound design by Acme Sound Partners, and music direction by Ben Whiteley.  With Christopher Gurr, James Beaman, Ben Davis, Lenny Daniel, Jeff Dumas, Matthew Greer, Christopher Sutton, Matt Allen, Graham Bowen, Cara Cooper, Nikke Della Penta, Andrew Fitch, Alexa Glover, David Havasi, Carissa Lopez, Jennifer Mathie, Lyn Philistine, Tera-Lee Pollin, Darryl Semira, Vanessa Sonon, Billy Sprague, Jr., Steven Wenslawski, Paula Wise, and Merle Dandridge. 

Photo: Joan Marcus

See the current season schedule for the San Diego area.

- Bill Eadie

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