My family is very much a fan of Monty Python and the show and the films were an integral part of my upbringing. I surmise, the call of “bring out your dead” on laundry days may have been the only way mom could get us to collect our dirty clothes for washing. Admittedly, I was caught practicing my silly walk on several occasions on my way home from school. And, it was not uncommon to respond to any number of serious requests with a Monty Python quote as the only form of “talking back” that was even slightly permitted. It is as a result of this adoration for the franchise that I entered into Spamalot the Musical at Hillbarn Theatre with a little bit of trepidation. For those familiar with Monty Python and specifically the film version of the Holy Grail, there is a challenge in taking on the iconic British humor of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idol and all the Pythonians. It’s interpretation versus imitation that is so tricky, but I believe Hillbarn has succeeded.
This success is no doubt attributed in large part to the really extraordinary cast. Their voices were jut brilliant and their comic timing near perfect. They embraced the silliness without compromising on the technical skills required to hit and hold notes (or break character.) The Lady in the Lake in particular was astonishing in her vocal control and sincere delivery of some of the most ridiculous comic material.
The knights were a fabulous ensemble of talented and funny men and I wanted to take them all home for tea. They all stood out individually and all worked great as an ensemble, led by a Kelsey Grammer –like King Arthur who was bold and talented vocally as well.
While some of the special effects of the film and even the Broadway run, simply couldn’t be replicated in Hillbarn’s space, they did a marvelous job with the technical side of the production. There are a lot of moving parts to this piece, a lot of costume changes, set pieces, lighting and props that are integral to the jokes and the flow of the show. An undertaking almost as lofty as the search for the grail, but again Hillbarn comes off with a solid victory.
For better or worse there is a canned orchestra and lots of visual projections that I am sure must be licensed with the show. There’s probably a lot more “brand integrity” associated with this show when you take it on from a legal side, leaving less for the staff and crew to interpret visually, but honestly it’s a feat in and of itself to get everyone on and off that stage smoothly which they achieved nearly flawlessly. The show never felt crowded or rushed nor dragging or slow.
Certainly fans of Monty Python and musical theater will appreciate the humor of the show’s content and everyone, fan or not I imagine, will enjoy the cohesive, hardworking, talented cast of Spamalot. 4 jewels out of 5 for a silly and admirably performed, light and entertaining show. Spamalot plays at the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City through September 29th.