Review: ‘Spamalot’ induces more than canned laughter in Cygnet revival
If you go into “Monty Python’s Spamalot” knowing nothing about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, you will come out of the show miraculously knowing even less than nothing about those topics.
But as Cygnet Theatre ensures in its lovably unhinged revival of this musical ode to canned meat and more, you’ll have learned plenty about prized shrubberies, vicious bunnies and the crucial differences between Finland and England. (Mainly: The Finns use fish in their folk dances, the Brits chop down trees with them. Or something.)
Python fans will already be familiar with huge tracts of the show, which landed on Broadway in 2005 and managed a nearly four-year run. Much of the material and even some of the music is lifted from the British comedy collective’s TV routines and films — particularly the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which pivoted on a hapless King Arthur’s quest for what he calls a “missing mug.”
As he did for Moonlight Stage Productions’ local premiere of “Spamalot” four years ago, Cygnet artistic chief Sean Murray takes on the role of Arthur, and does so with an ideal air of stately exasperation and maybe the Middle Ages’ most overgrown sense of privilege.
But then you might feel that way, too, if a posse of knights — not very good ones, but still — dropped everything to join your quest.
And if a mystical Lady of the Lake (portrayed by Christine Hewitt with big-voiced bravura and a slyly scene-stealing touch) bestowed upon you the fabled sword Excalibur via a totally non-farcical aquatic ceremony.
Hewitt leads the comically earnest gospel-rock raveup “Find Your Grail,” and returns in Act 2 with “The Diva’s Lament,” which is all about her lack of stage time — “Spamalot” being in many ways a musical about itself.
The show really pushes its self-referential cred to the edge by conflating Arthur’s mission with the production’s own crusade to make it to Broadway. Although by this time it already has been there, so … awkward.
Some favorite Python routines and tunes also are better-placed than others: The song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which originated in the movie “The Life of Brian,” is always chipper fun but loses a bit of its perverse impact as applied to Arthur’s woes rather than to the predicament of a crucified messiah.
But “Knights of the Round Table” gets winningly expanded into a big Vegas production number (Katie Banville’s choreography shines with wit and polish here), and the Lady of the Lake’s attendant “Laker Girls” throw in some bonkers cheerleading moves on “Come With Me.”
Murray’s direction, Sean Fanning’s sets, Chris Rynne’s lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design combine for a production that plays up its own downscale cheesiness to appealing comic effect, while musical director/conductor Terry O’Donnell and his band get into the score’s goofy groove.
And you have to love the resourcefulness (and stamina) of the actors, most of whom play multiple characters. Bryan Banville in particular seems to be everywhere in roles from snippy narrator to extra-sensitive prince to taunting French knight.
David S. Humphrey makes Sir Galahad a marvel of self-regard, and proves disarming (so to speak) as the brave but unfortunate Black Knight; Jonathan Sangster is dryly amusing as the aptly named Patsy, Arthur’s long-suffering valet; Donny Gersonde is a suitably fearsome Tim the Enchanter, who tries to warn the knights of a deceptively ravenous rabbit; and James Saba (as the lily-livered Sir Robin), Evan White (Sir Lancelot) and Anthony Methvin (Sir Bedevere) also have good moments.
And while it has to be said that “Spamalot” is not much of a women’s show, versatile ensemble members Siri Hafso, Jenny Henkel, Lauren Long and Janissa Rose (along with Hewitt) do everything they can to counter all the knight-splaining.
The show also strikes a blow for gay marriage, and gets one of its biggest ovations when a put-upon peasant responds to Arthur’s aggressive assertion of kingliness with a tart, “Well, I didn’t vote for ya!”
That laugh might be as good as a grail.
“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 5.
Where: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town.
Phone: (619) 337-1525
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