Jackson Mullins, Billy Bass, Jeremy O’Brien, & Zachary Adam Hebert in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Photo:TWSI
Monty Python’s Spamalot
Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Book & lyrics by Eric Idle
Directed by Jason Roseberry
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I grew up with Monty Python. First in the bowdlerized ABC late-night broadcasts that misrepresented their work and left me scratching my head, and then when PBS began showing the series properly, as it had been shown on the BBC a few years earlier.
In between, I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the legendary Vogue Theatre in Louisville, so that movie is the most sacred touchstone in my love for the Pythons, except sacred touchstones seem antithetical to the anarchic spirit of the group.
I don’t think the musical stage adaptation, Monty Python’s Spamalot, is better but it establishes enough of its own identity to make for grand and irreverent entertainment, even though the satire doesn’t cut as deep. Many iconic scenes follow the film closely. The taunting French Knights are here, as are the Knights Who Say NI, and the foul rabbit, but the sexism of Zoot and Castle Anthrax have been excised, as has the witch-burning scene, and the cringe-worthy homophobia of Sir Lancelot’s rescue attempt is now subverted by a glitzy coming out musical number, “His Name is Lancelot.”
The metaphysical disruption of the narrative by contemporary characters has been replaced by the Lady of the Lake (Amy Miller) and a love story that, however satirically drawn, plants the material in a much more traditional framework.
The cast plays it loose if not quite as fast as it ought to be, but they were close enough to the mark on opening night to believe that they will tighten things up to a suitable degree now that they have an audience. Billy Bass cuts a fine figure of comic masculinity as King Arthur, and Amy Miller is a striking and sarcastic Lady of the Lake. Jackson Mullins is fleet of foot as Patsy, Arthur’s horse (yes, with coconuts), Tyler Dippold walks a tightrope as Herbert and doesn’t falter, and Jason M. Jones wields a cadre of plummy U.K. dialects stealing the show in several supporting roles. Those are the standouts, but everyone seems to have fun and gets it.
The sets are fairly simple. Most importantly, terrific projections conjure up locations and graphics, and animations that are a nod to the unique work of Python member Terry Gilliam. The terrific costumes were mostly borrowed from CenterStage with some additional contributions from the cast and crew. While singing “Find Your Grail”, Amy Miller sported a sexy white pantsuit and headpiece reminiscent of Bob Mackie’s work for Cher from the 1970s.
Eric Idle wrote the musical’s book and lyrics and collaborated with John Du Prez on the music, but a few songs were purloined from other Pythons titles: “Finland”, was written by Michael Palin for Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album; “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin”, were composed by Neil Innes for the original film. Although it works well here, I cannot help but question if “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, loses some of the mordant comic impact it creates when it first appeared in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
So if Spamalot at times seems a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of Python business, there is a reason, but Eric Idle mostly has merged it all together with as much sense as any of the group’s endeavors. Ultimately it takes the Python brand, which always depended on the individual members to perform it, and positions it as a product suitable for staging all across the world as any other hit Broadway musical. That’s a criticsim, certainly, but this show still stands apart from a great many musicals eagerly snatched up by community theatre companies, and offers as much, if not more entertainment value than most.
This production stands as the last “scheduled” performance by TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana for the immediate future, as they “take a pause” to seek out a new space and a better future in New Albany Indiana. Their work has set a good standard for quality on both sides of the Ohio River and we hope they come back sooner rather than later.
Featuring Billy Bass, Curtis Becht, Robert Blizard, Tyler Dippold, Louisa Frey, Zachary Adam Hebert, Jason M. Jones, Ross Just, Colleen McGuirk, KB Merchant, Amy Miller, Jackson Mullins, Clint Nowickie, Jeremy O’Brien, & Erin Wood,
May 10 – 21, 2023
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana/NAPAC
203 E Main St.
New Albany, IN 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.