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REVIEW: Outrageously funny ‘Spamalot’ at Music Mountain Theater in Lambertville

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

By John Dwyer

“Spamalot” begins with a fine finish — a fine Finnish ”Fisch Schlapping Song,” and you wonder if it can maintain such a high low-brow standard. But, there is nothing to worry about. It does.

“Spamalot” is the brain child of Eric Idle, a Monty Python member who wrote the book and lyrics, and with John Du Prez composed the music. The other Python members gave him their blessings as, by 2005, the rest were off doing other projects. In talking about the high low-brow humor, I reference literary references being done in the same breath as a fart joke, which often is the case with them. The original troupe of Monty Python hailed from Oxford and Cambridge Universities for the most part. Eric Idle went to Oxford.

There is a built-in audience for such crazy balderdash. So many of us were addicted to the TV series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” that aired from 1969-1974 in the U.K. and was in syndication here for many years after that. A slew of movies followed, including “The Meaning of Life,” “The Life of Brian” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which “Spamalot” was based on.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

This musical became a springboard for a couple of careers, including Christian Borle who went on to star in future musicals and in the TV show “Smash,” and Sara Ramirez, who went on to play Dr. Callie Torres on the television series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Ramirez won a Tony as Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot.”

The premise of the show is that King Arthur (David Whiteman) is without men and a horse, but nevertheless is in search of the Holy Grail. Why? And what’s a grail? Don’t ask — it’s just kind of what kings and knights do.

I shouldn’t say without a horse or men, as there is his loyal charge Patsy (Jordan Brennan), who has a set of coconuts to make a trotting sound for an imaginary horse and is a medieval human version of a U-Haul, so the King can have his King Things.

To set this up, the show basically begins with a historian (Louis Palena) in place to give us an accurate perspective as to medieval times, because the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table does not need any “fake news.” Within a few hours, different Monty Python sketches are sewn together as knights join Arthur in his quest for the grail and they encounter several foes to overcome.

Several knight’s stories are brought out into the light of day, including Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot and Sir Robin. Sir Galahad is the first man to be knighted by King Arthur.

Sir Galahad is played by the impressive actor/singer Lee Damon, last seen on this stage as Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls.” To convince this man to follow him, Arthur tells him how he got his legendary sword, Excalibur. This is a sword only to be given to the king. It was given to him by the Lady of the Lake, who Arthur summons to explain this to Galahad, formerly known as Dennis. The Lady schools Dennis with the songs “Come With Me” and “The Song that Goes Like This,” and by the end of this, we have Sir Galahad.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

Sir Lancelot (Erik Snyder) is also on hand to rescue a fair princess, who turns out to be a prince (oops!). He rescues Prince Herbert (Louis Palena) and gives a lesson about acceptance to the prince’s father, King of Swamp Castle (Roger Madding). All join in to sing “His Name is Lancelot,” a disco paean to Sir Lancelot in the style of Barry Manilow/Peter Allen.

Meanwhile, King Arthur and Patsy have been stopped by “The Knights Who Say Ni.” Arthur cannot pass by these knights without their exacting a tribute. They want a shrubbery. Meanwhile, the timid Sir Robin, played with a John Lithgow drollness by Jim Moore, is a knight/soldier who was never meant to fight. In an encounter with The Black Knight, he is scared off, but King Arthur disarms (literally) this dastardly villain. They find a shrubbery for “The Knights Who Say Ni,” but now they want the king to put on a Broadway Musical. Sir Robin is excited about this, as this is right up his alley. But to produce a professional show, you must have Jews, which is lamented in the hilarious “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”

Fast paced and hilarious, this show is non-stop crazy. Some more highlights include Jordan Brennan as the kind and loving Royal Court Special Attendant to the King (a title I just made up). In trying to buck up spirits, he sings the best-known song of the evening, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” originally from “The Life of Brian.” He is joined in that song by the King, the always regal David Whiteman. Arthur’s battle with the Black Knight (Mike Prikril) is sidesplittingly funny. Also of note, Alex Klein in multiple roles is chameleon-like, whether an English Tower Guard, a man dying from the Plague or a Flatulent Frenchman. Hats off to him and his high comic energy.

The Lady of the Lake is a role in search of a diva, and it found one in Jennifer Fischer. She ends Act 1 with the inspiring “Find Your Grail,” which is her pep talk to the Round Table. But what is the “knock it out of the park “song is when she comes back in Act 2 and asks the audience and anyone who will listen, “Why am I not getting more stage time? It has been too long!!!” Her “Diva’s Lament” (a.k.a. “Whatever Happened to My Part”) is hilarious and soars. She belts it and nails it. Bravas and hoots followed.

(Photo: Kasey Ivan)

Louis Palena did an excellent job as director and choreographer. And Jordan Brennan is, of course, being given his usual tribute as costume designer extraordinaire.

When this show first came out what was curious was that it seemed a whole new audience was coming to this show. Young men loved Python humor and a new demographic was seen in theaters. This was noted by newspapers like the New York Times, which in 2005 said the following:

“It seems so far that ‘Spamalot’ has the potential to become a show for young guys like ‘Wicked’ is for young girls,” said Jed Bernstein, the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers.

(Jed Bernstein went on to become Executive Director of the Bucks County Playhouse)

The show was such a delight that in England there was a postage stamp commemorating “Spamalot.” Ironically, in the show, there is a moment where the French are showing their bums and implying the knights should lick their backsides. This show proved to be so successful, that when it became a stamp, that actually happened.

For a jolly, rip-roaring good time, go see “Spamalot.” The show continues through May 19, and tickets are available online.

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