Minor Monty, with wicked gleams7/22/2015
Imagine you’re Eric Idle, founding member of Monty Python, and a Broadway producer comes calling with a bucket of money. All that long green can be yours, providing you whip up a musical out of your hit movie from 1975, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Well, Eric? So what if your movie was so perfect that everyone still remembers all the jokes?
Idle eventually took the money and brought “Spamalot” to Broadway in 2005. There, the show picked up a Tony and other awards, while hauling in its own buckets of cash. Here at the Playhouse, too, the opening weekend appeared sold out. Better yet, the performance never flagged, with a built-in Energizer bunny, otherwise known as Mark Maddy, rollicking through the silliness, usually in the role of Sir Lancelot. Charlie Reese almost matched Maddy, too, with a giddy balance of underplaying and hamming things up. Plus — tap dancing!
Even the six-piece orchestra, unseen backstage, could make you laugh. Whenever some character onstage ordered the music to stop (the script often breaks through theater’s fourth wall), the instruments would trail off comically, with the last swoon of a clarinet. As for the set, that could seem perfunctory, with one gray cardboard castle after another. Still, a couple of times designer Alan Reynolds brought off winning effects, like Enchanter Tim up on his cloud.
In short, the Playhouse delivers. The show always proves enjoyable, if not uproarious. That falloff, alas, matches the one from the movie to the musical. “Holy Grail” can put you in the hospital — it’s that funny. “Spamalot,” each time it recycles a cherished snippet, can’t help but feel tired. In Act One, for instance, we encounter the French guard, ranting at King Arthur from up in his turret: “I fart in your general direction!” This was Maddy, and he added what he could, the gleam in his eye quite wicked. Still, the bit remained an extended homage to John Cleese.
Idle and his collaborators understood the problem, and they invested “Spamalot” with a handful of new elements. The musical goes to another Python film for one signature number, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” — a showcase, in this production, for the limber Brett Spahr and his deranged smile. More than that, Idle dared to break up the Python Boys’ Club. He took Arthur’s Lady of the Lake and made her over as a major character: a love interest, no less.
Director Ron Zeigler gave the role to Jackie Schmillen, of KCWI’s “Great Day,” and she brought the star power. Playing the star, indeed, was part of the joke. This Lady takes a turn as Elvis, in what may be the wildest new number, reimagining Camelot as Vegas. Later, her “Diva’s Lament,” its money notes extended to the breaking point, gave the second act a welcome jolt of sheer insanity. For a few minutes there, Schmillen came through with the full Monty.
Overheard in the Lobby: The Social Club will present the Pulitzer winner “A Soldier’s Play” Aug. 14-22. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.