Updated: May 10
GWC Brings Stunning Broadway Caliber Production to the Stage!
Welcome to Britain, 932 A.D., where the forecast is plague with a 100 percent chance of pestilence, and when the rubbish cart comes knocking, it matters not if you are not yet dead.
It does take some daring on the part of a community theater to tackle a musical in which a character mockingly describes Broadway actors as "people who can sing and dance … often at the same time." But Golden West College Theater Arts Department has given their all in staging "Spamalot," a 2004 Broadway hit based on the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" cult comedy film. It’s a tall order, complete with a catapulting cow, vicious bunny rabbit and the hand of God himself.
Technically, it's also a whirlwind of wigs, props and quick costume changes. In fact, costumer Amanda Martin’s never-ending parade of goofily fun outfits is a show within itself.
Here, "Spamalot," with book and lyrics by Monty Python founding member Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez and Mr. Idle, is both directed and choreographed for the GWC stage by Broadway veteran and Performing Arts Chair Martie Ramm. Director Ramm, who has been with Golden West College since 2003, says, “I have never repeated a production…until now…After numerous requests from patrons and cast members from our 2015 production, I felt compelled to repeat just this musical—and just this one time.”
Half the hilarity is verbal sallies, half sight gags. This cheeky, subversive, and unashamedly sidesplitting “Spamalot,” typically described as “ridiculous men in tight pants,” is a labor of laughter. Its irreverence feels contagious, its target-shooting flawless. Nothing is spared its satire as it punctures pomposity and slaughters sacred cows. Medieval mockery is just so 2022.
"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was the first film feature from a troupe that revolutionized sketch comedy. First seen on British television in 1969 with the series "Monty Python's Flying Circus," this group of Oxbridge-erudite young Brits (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle) and one American soul mate (Terry Gilliam) combined the anarchy of the Marx Brothers with a rarefied British spirit of absurdity and a straight-faced irreverence regarding all priggishness.
"The Holy Grail" stayed true to the formula of the Python television series, channeling the troupe's vision of a disjointed world of colliding sensibilities and cultural references into a retelling of the myth of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Python songs were sung with the giggly glee of naughty Boy Scouts around a campfire. And festive decorations were provided in the form of medieval cartoon-like costumes and scenery helpfully described in the show as "very expensive."
And so, predictably and inescapably, this fractured tale of the quest of King Arthur and his ditsy knights for the Holy Grail was reconceived in theatrical terms and woven into another quest: that of bringing the king and his entourage to the enchanted land called Broadway. Premiering at the Shubert Theatre in 2004, the musical starred Tim Curry as King Arthur and received 14 Tony nominations, winning three, including Best Musical, and was one of only eight UK musicals commemorated on Royal Mail stamps, issued in February 2011.
And, it also seems safe to say that such a good time is likewise being had on the Mainstage at GWC’s beautifully designed theater—so much, in fact, that it’s no wonder this fitful, eager celebration of inanity has found a large and lucrative audience among those who value the virtues of shrewd idiocy, artful tackiness and wide-eyed impiety.
Still, the uninitiated may be bewildered when laughs arrive even before a scene gets under way. The mere appearance of a familiar set piece (a trojan horse with a bunny head) or the utterance of a single word (i.e., "ni") is enough to provoke anticipatory guffaws among the cognoscenti. Punch lines come to seem almost irrelevant.
That said, the cast shines in their buffoonery, encountering gut-busting and anachronistic props and puns throughout the two-hour (plus interval time) show. Led by Steve De Forest’s bumptious, plummy-voiced Arthur, played to brilliant excess with a faint Cleesian presence, the good king wears a smile as inflexible as armor as if someone minding a tedious child. But Arthur would be “all alone” without his trusty, winsome squire Patsy (Whitney Ackerman), who sings flawlessly with solid projection.
Jay Harbison’s Sir Bedevere, the strangely flatulent, who is somehow picked up along the way, was a lark. Jeff Lowe plies his sterling mimetic skills to evoke exactly such fabled slap-happy warriors from the film as both the very irritating, yet towering Knight of Ni (wearing stilts), and the gallant, square-jawed Sir Galahad, who tosses his blond tresses as if he were auditioning for a Clairol commercial. Michael Bell (also the minstrel) plays the Historian narrator who seems to have a lot of clever wit, a bulldog spirit, and high regard for tradition. Doc Adams is the Mayor and a very funny guard.
Jonathan West becomes the inept warlock known as Tim the Enchanter and Matthew Villescas embodies well the closeted Sir Lancelot (who finds happiness when he discovers his inner Peter Allen), as well as the nasty French Taunter who specializes in English-baiting insults. Along the rollicking road, the band, trotting about on sound-effect horses, encounters Jarrett Guthrie’s plague-ridden serf who insists he’s “not dead yet,” who later becomes a poofter prince named Herbert locked up in a tower by his homophobic father. And in the role of the scaredy-pants, IBS troubled Sir Robin (whose main redeeming quality is being showbiz crazy), Mark Torres brings a genial Rex Harrison-style dapperness to a patter number about the importance of including Jews in any Broadway show.
But that’s not even all: there are socialist peasants, a killer rodent, a black knight (Tyler Fewell) who sportively loses all his limbs and, speaking of such, God’s dangling digits, with his entity represented by Mr. Idle himself. Then, in a wicked fourth-wall breaking surprise, the Grail itself is found in plain sight in the audience as a theater patron is promoted to “best peasant.”
But the tastiest satiric juice is provided by the brassy Kalinda Gray (a shameless scene-stealer with staying power), who plays Arthur's buxom but ethereal love interest, the Lady of the Lake, and who openly demands a bigger part in the show.
But whether warmly overseeing her coquettish Laker Girls as they cheer the knights, trilling out a playful, scat session, powering out a soul ballad "American Idol"-style or working that swinging pleasure palace called Camelot like Liza at Caesars Palace, Ms. Gray knows how to send up a vintage performance until it goes into orbit. One of the evening's high point numbers involve Ms. Gray’s Lady and Mr. Lowe’s Galahad floating on stage in a boat laying it on thick with the animated “The Song That Goes Like This.”
The songs are catchy, yet also somewhat derivative (and very reminiscent of the score for “The Producers” by Mel Brooks). If the songs were stripped of their bright orchestrations and first-rate vocal arrangements, the basic melodies that would remain are extremely simplistic (especially by modern show tune standards) and often involve variations of a three-note tune ("All For One", "Find Your Grail", "Where Are You?"). "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," from the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, is the show's best song, but Camelot, with its catchy lyrics and delicious, cheesecake-laden floor show as Arthur slowly morphs into a Rat-Pack-style master of ceremonies still seems to be the favorite.
By the way, the reference for the song, “He is Not Dead Yet,” is a humorous take on a real-life commodity from the middle ages, actually a network of body-dealers that stretched across London and out into the provinces. These shadowy figures made their money by selling unclaimed corpses to medical facilities because their relatives were too poor to pay for a pauper’s funeral. Cadavers were either spirited away from undertakers or secretly picked up on carts late at night roaming the neighborhoods—those bodies soon on their way to local medical institutions to go under an anatomist’s lancet.
It’s all riotously entertaining as Director Martie Ramm (Broadway: “Evita,” London: “A Chorus Line”) and Music Director Rick Heckman tap so deeply and effectively into this zany, high-minded, low-brow brand of satire–with a few modern references thrown in along the way–that it feels as fresh and edgy today as it did more than 50 years ago when the British troupe vaulted to international acclaim on television and film.
GOLDEN WEST COLLEGE THEATER ARTS DEPARTMENT, PRESENTS, MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT, A NEW MUSICAL LOVINGLY RIPPED OFF FROM THE MOTION PICTURE, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL; Performing April 29th – May 8th; Book & Lyrics ERIC IDLE; Music JOHN DU PREZ & ERIC IDLE; Director/Choreographer MARTIE RAMM; Conductor/Musical Director/Keyboards RICK HECKMAN; Production Stage Manager HANNAH JEPSEN; Assistant Stage Manager KNEESA HOUGEN; Scenic Designer TIM MUELLER; Costume Designer AMANDA MARTIN; Lighting Designer MATT SCHLEICHER; Sound/Projection Designer DAVE MICKEY; Hair/Wig/Makeup Designer MICHON GRUBER; Technical Director BRYAN DAUTERIVE; Dance Captain NICOLE MARTENSEN.
WITH: STEVE DE FOREST, KALINDA GRAY, WHITNEY ACKERMAN, MARK TORRES, MATTHEW VILLESCAS, JEFF LOWE, JAY HARBISON, JARRETT GUTHRIE, MICHAEL BELL, TYLER FEWELL, JONATHAN WEST, DOC ADAMS, KEVIN LARSON, JORDAN LADOUCEUR, JULIAN ROSENBURG. THE AUDIO/VIDEO GOD WAS BY ARRANGEMENT FROM ATG, LONDON UK.
THE LAKER GIRLS/DANCERS: NICOLE MARTENSEN, REBECCA THOMAS, NOVELEE SMEDLEY, LIZZY LEGERE, BRITNEY NGUYEN, ANGELIQUE STASIUK. ENSEMBLE: DOC ADAMS, MICHAEL BELL, CHRIS BROWN, TYLER FEWELL, JORDAN KNOCH, JORDAN LADOUCEUR, KEVIN LARSON, LIZZY LEGERE, NICOLE MARTENSEN, BRITNEY NGUYEN, ISABEL PALMER, DIANNA PEREZ, LARISSA PETRIDES, CHADF PHILLIPS, JULIAN ROSENBERG, NOVELEE SMEDLEY, ANGELIQUE STASIUK, REBECCA THOMAS, JONATHAN WEST. UNDERSTUDIES: Lady NOVELEE SMEDLEY, Galahad MICHAEL BELL, Bedevere DOC ADAMS, Not Dead Fred CHAD PHILLIPS, Knight of Ni JORDAN LADOUCEUR, Guard JULIAN ROSENBERG, Black Knight JONATHAN WEST, Tim TYLER FEWELL.
Golden West College Theater Arts Department continues performances through May 8th in the GWC Mainstage Theater. Tickets are on sale now through the GWC Theater Arts department website at www.gwctheater.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office before performances.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Greg Parks