It may initiate itself as a smirk building to audible chuckle, but, inevitably, gut-busting laughter will swarm and devour the audience. Even the most stone-faced theatergoer, impenetrable to humor, must accept defeat to the hilarity that is UNC Greensboro’s production of Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Spamalot, a musical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, debuted to audiences in 2005 with profitable triumph. The production won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for just under four years.
Decked out in full musical comedy opulence — ornamented chorus girls, tap dancing knights, rousing duets, and a lamenting Diva with not nearly enough to do — the play spoofs England’s Arthurian era as King Arthur and his round table of men pilgrimage on a quest for the Holy Grail, along the way, revealing vignettes of musical references from Fiddler on the Roof, Phantom of the Opera, and beloved lounge act impersonations.
A musical such as this fundamentally works brilliantly or not at all. There is little to no room for noncommittal engagement when the subject matter operates with a high level of absurdity. It is essential for the audience to surrender and celebrate the humor of the piece, and nothing encourages this more than witnessing actors who seem to be enjoying themselves. It is commendable that the cast of Spamalot was able to approach the comedy with integrity, without taking it too seriously, which would undermine the jokes entirely. Therefore, they created performances that were casual without once being sloppy.
Aaron Brakefield provided a solid performance carrying the production as the narcissistic and oblivious King Arthur. He particularly shone in the song “I’m All Alone,” where he was heartbreaking, ridiculous, and hilarious. Emily Gardenhire stole the limelight as the vocally versatile Lady of the Lake. As the only major female character in the show, there was added pressure not to get lost in a “lake of testosterone.” However, Gardenhire outshone everyone with her sassy commanding presence.
Honorable mention must be made for ensemble member Amy Hamel. Hamel, who has a vast resume of professional work, and brought character refinement and technique to every moment she was onstage. During the chorus’ performances, it was clear her charisma elevates the numbers.
Director Jim Wren stayed aligned to the essence of the original, with components that directly mirror the Broadway production. That said, it in no way belittles any creative originality, it merely speaks to the solid foundation of the show as a whole. The mark of a truly successful play or musical, although often a rarity among increasingly commercial blockbusters, is the ability to transition from various theater houses, assorted professional levels, and appeal to multiple age demographics.
Spamalot is a prime example of a show that is not crippled when removed from its Broadway pedestal. It provides the production team the opportunity to be economical in its use of resources without compromising believability. As a matter of fact, the imaginativeness of low budget intent creates a commentary about grandiose theater, which amplifies the gag.
Vandy Scoates (scenic design) and Lauren Pivirotto (costume design) achieved excellence in this production with diligent attention to detail. This was evident with strategically placed breasts throughout the scenery and attire ranging from medieval rags to glamorous showgirl sequences.
It is not necessary to be an avid Pythonian in order to appreciate the smorgasbord of shrewd impieties and punch line puns. UNC Greensboro’s Spamalot is a classic good time across the board. The show delights so fully at itself, it almost arrogantly dares the audience not to laugh — rightfully so, considering it is not at all short on funny.
Spamalot continues through Thursday, October 10. For more details on the production, please view the sidebar.