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We arrive in Medieval England, 932 A.D. (after a brief bit of confusion and a stint through Finland) to follow the journey of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in an epic journey of daring, battling, questing, and lots and lots of dancing. Monty Python's Spamalot is the "musical lovingly ripped off from" the cult-classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, produced by and starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The music and lyrics were imagined by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, and the musical tells many of the classic jokes found in the 1975 film, with a few Broadway twists along the way.
Raleigh Little Theatre opened this show on Friday night, featuring its all-new Siemens Hearing Loop System, an assistive listening device provided by the City of Raleigh and NC Audiology Associates. This system, the first of its kind in a theatre in the Triangle, helps RLT in its goal to make sure all audience members can enjoy as much of each show as possible. And this show has so many quick jokes and not-so-subtle plays on words that if you miss just a moment, you'll undoubtedly miss a laugh.
In the vein of keeping up hilarity (and demolishing the fourth wall of separation between the audience), the Voice of God speaks first, announcing that "I'll know if you don't" turn off your cell phones before the show. Even the musicians playing the overture get to prime the crowd for laughs. Trumpet player Michael Mole gets audibly "sacked" for being too overzealous in his opening fanfares, harkening back to the film's opening titles, in which the captioner gets a little too excited and is removed from service. Theatricality and humor are the top priorities, at times sacrificing the quality of singing and playing the music precisely, but accuracy seems to be hardly the point, anyway (or at least it's supposed to seem that way to the audience).
All the sweeping Broadway stereotypes are present: prima donna the Lady of the Lake (Nicole C. Julien) laments her diminishing significance in the plot several times; gospel hits in "Find Your Grail" and "The Song that Goes Like This" feature backup choirs and high-drama brass; and of course the all-encompassing, Las-Vegas-esque "Knights of the Round Table" provides all the glitz, glamor, and cute girls that the writers could possibly imagine. Casting for the show was at times non-traditional for practical and hilarious purposes. Not only did men sometimes play can-can girls and mothers (preserving some of the original humor of Monty Python's skits), but some of the guards and traditionally male characters were also very obviously played by women, making sure that the gender-bending went both ways. There was also an appropriately and thoughtfully written bit of dialogue thrown in to commemorate the legalization of same-sex marriage, which elicited much applause.
Supporting characters at times stole the show, including Prince Herbert (Parker Perry) playing the damsel in distress, Patsy (Brian Fisher) in various cameos and one-liners, and my personal favorites, the Knights who Say Ni and their command that King Arthur (Mark Ridenour) and his Knights put on a Broadway musical. Ridenour played a delightfully narcissistic King Arthur, and Tony Hefner was brilliant as Sir Robin, especially in his showstopping "You Won't Succeed on Broadway."
I won't go into detail about the execution of some of the best scenes so as not to ruin the jokes, but I will say that cast and crew did a fantastic job with preserving humor and enjoyment as their top priority. From Nancy Rich's exceptional choreography to Shannon Clark's "very expensive forest" scenic design to director Patrick Torres' brilliant vision, the show was a laugh riot. The cast often had to pause for the audience to recover from fits of uncontrollable laughter, sometimes for several minutes. Even though Monty Python is known for collections of seemingly-unrelated skits, the scenes in this musical were executed with consistency, flair, self-deprecating humor, and a great deal of talent and hard work.
Spamalot continues through Sunday, September 20. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this review incorrectly included nuns among the list of characters played by men. We offer our sincerest apologies for the error. No disrespect was intended to the production or any of its performers.