Monty Python's Spamalot
Who CNY Playhouse
Where 3649 Erie Blvd E., Syracuse, NY
When Through September 21st
Review by Miriam Taylor
On opening night of the Central New York Playhouse’s performance of the cult classic Spamalot, audience members whispered lines and whistled songs in match with the players. With this much adoration and familiarity, it’s difficult for a production to live up to the standards held by its audience. But, for the most part, the CNY Playhouse does not disappoint.
For those few that are unfamiliar with the play, Spamalot (book and lyrics by Eric Idle, one of the original members of the Monty Python comedy sketch group), it is exactly what its tag line says, “a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” And for those even fewer who have never seen the brilliant 1975 British comedy film, it is an extraneous parody of the Arthurian legend.
The tale follows Arthur (played by the talented Bob Brown) and his forgettable sidekick Patsy (played by the equally forgettable Simon Moody) as they comb through medieval England looking for recruits for the round table. Along the way they pick up Sir Bedevere (Jim Magnarelli), Sir Robin (played by the ever-so-fun to watch Trevor F. Hill), Sir Lancelot (Alan D. Stillman) and Sir Gallahad (played by incredible singer Stephen Gamba) and are eventually tasked with the finding of the Holy Grail. The Lady of the Lake (played by Cathleen O’Brien Brown) was perfectly cast and stole every scene she was while aiding the knights on their quest.
Spamalot is a perfect choice for a community theater to perform. Due to the thrown together nature of the comedy it allows for error on the part of the players. Ensemble members can forget parts of their dance routine (and a few do), or the set can look as if it is made of cardboard castles drawn by a third-grader (which it does), or the cast costuming look as if it was rented from a back-alley shop in the mid-80s (it does).
Not to belittle the costuming, the tacky skirts and blouses of the female ensemble and the plain cotton minstrel/knight outfits of the male ensemble look identical to the movie set (and therefore were most likely rented from the company catalog). However, therein lies the single complaint of the performance, it was the movie made-over.
Spamalot allows for improv, it encourages improv, but the Playhouse did not accept the challenge. There are a few in-jokes tossed lightly into various scenes. The Carrier Dome makes a quick cameo on the painted tarp scrolling through images of the world as the knights gallivant past it in search for the grail. “It’s freezing,” shouts Sir Robin, earning an easy laugh. The Shoppingtown Mall (home of the CNY Playhouse) is mentioned as well as the SALT awards and there is even an appearance by the New Times’ James MacKillop, albeit a stage version of him. The real MacKillop sat at a table gently laughing at the trussed up caricature of himself. These few jokes aside, the players dropped the ball on what could have been a risky performance but an ultimately rewarding one. Instead they stuck with the time-honored tradition of how the play (and movie) has been acted over the years and earned themselves an enjoyable, albeit predictable, production.
Not to say that there aren’t standout performances among the predictable. Not-Dead-Fred/Prince Herbert (Jon Wilson, who also wore the hat of stage manager) held every eye each time he graced the stage, as did Hill’s Sir Robin. The other standouts were the talented (though loud) orchestra, directed by Abel Searor, who wowed from the “Fisch Schlapping Dance” to “Find Your Grail.” Also of note are the hand-made costumes of Arthur and the Lady of the Lake, designed and stitched by B.G. Fitzgerald and Patti O’Brien Beaumont.
Spamalot is a play written to make fun and be fun, and the CNY Playhouse players clearly have a blast dancing, singing and performing terrible jokes to the enjoyment of all who are there to watch.