By Lori Bosworth
Torontonicity was invited to review Spamalot at The Lower Ossington Theatre on Saturday, June 28. Perhaps Monty Python is way before your time, (the comedy troupe hit the height of its popularity with a TV series and movies in the seventies and early eighties). No matter. It’s also no matter that you are not familiar with the legend of King Arthur, upon which this spoof is based. Monty Python’s Spamalot, with book and lyrics by Python Eric Idle and music by John du Prez and Eric Idle, appeals to a wide audience due to its universal humour. Briefly, it’s a parody involving King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail. The 2005 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
Spamalot opens with a scene in a Finnish fishing village where local folk perform a dance. The narrator interrupts to clarify that the setting should in fact be medieval England, not Finland, and the actors quickly run off stage and return in dour monks’ habits. Much of this type of confused wordplay forms the basis of comedy in this musical.
The story proceeds with King Arthur setting out to find the Holy Grail, along with his sidekick, Patsy, and realizing that he must amass a troupe of soldiers to form the Knights of the Round Table to assist him with the quest. The king selects several unlikely candidates including Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot The Homicidally Brave, Sir Robin, the Not-Quite-So-Brave-as-Sir-Lancelot and Sir Bedevere, the Strangely Flatulent. Along the way, he encounters the glitzy and glamorous Lady of the Lake and her Vegas-style Laker girls, who encourage him to find the grail.
Jeremy Hutton directs this musical at a pleasingly accelerated pace, while Michele Shuster tackles an enormous challenge of choreographing many musical genres in Spamalot including the disco-inspired His Name is Lancelot, the show tune, Come with Me and the cheerleading sequence in Laker Girls Cheer. Shuster’s choreography is one big reason to see The LOT’s production of Spamalot. Her dance sequences are complex, athletic and hugely entertaining. Kathleen Black’s costumes, particularly those of the Laker Girls, are Sin City spectacular. Mikael Kangas’s flashing neon lighting elevates the big show tunes and Ferrante’s choreography to dazzling displays of artistry.
Evan Dowling is perfectly cast as Patsy, eliciting sympathy for his clumsiness and often-overlooked devotion to the king. Dowling showcases Patsy’s cheerful innocence in the opening verse of the memorable”Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Jason Gray’s King Arthur demonstrates the actor’s seasoned comedic talents and ability to mesmerize an audience.
I loved Emma Ferrante as the Lady of the Lake and her bold, belting, showstopper, Whatever Happened to My Part, a lament that breaks the fourth wall as the actor wails about not having appeared since the first number. Ferrante has powerful chops and shows off a spectacular range when hitting the high notes in this number. She also effectively conspires with the audience to delight in the excessiveness of this diva’s over-the-top personality.
But it’s Eric Idle’s witty book and lyrics that ensure the good time that is guaranteed at Spamalot. You have to listen closely because the one-liners and cultural and theatre references are fired continuously. When King Arthur wants to put on a Broadway show, his knights urge him that it should not be “an Andrew Lloyd Webber”. King Arthur and his circle try to intimidate some French soldiers with a Trojan…rabbit. And the knights burst into dance with grails instead of bottles as in Fiddler on the Roof. It’s a grand time in classic Monty Python tradition and the LOT’s production will not disappoint. Hurry and get your tickets.