It’s not uncommon in a musical theatre setting to see members of the audience singing along to beloved show tunes.
In Spamalot, you’re more likely to see people mouthing slabs of the book.
Reverse engineered from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spamalot contains what are, for fans of vintage British comedy, gospel texts – sketches a whole generation of youngsters painstakingly transcribed from LP records and VHS tapes, memorised, then repeated ad nauseam in the playground. To see them repeated in a theatre is to have them leap to the lips like Pavlovian drool.
I’d bet that on any night, performer Aaron Tsindos, playing the soldier taunting King Arthur from the battlements of a French castle, could throw his lines to the audience and they would be taken up in perfect unison.
Spamalot was a Broadway success in 2005 where it earned 14 Tony Award nominations. Perhaps the Python’s trademark irreverence – much of it directed toward musical theatre – seemed appealing when the other big show in town was The Light in the Piazza.
“Once in every show / There comes a song like this,” croons Galahad in the composer-lyricist Eric Idle’s parodic The Song That Goes Like This. “It starts off soft and low / And ends up with a kiss …”
Elsewhere, the diva-like Lady of the Lake laments, “Whatever Happened to My Part” and Sir Robin reminds us that “You Won’t Succeed in Sydney With a Star” (an insider joke rewritten to namecheck local industry identities in this instance).
But for most of its two and something hours, Spamalot sticks to the narrative of the film and its procession of comic set pieces: the Anarcho-Syndicalist peasants questioning King Arthur’s right to rule; the Black Knight who fights on despite losing all his limbs (“it’s only a flesh wound!”); the plight of the heir to a swamp kingdom who just wants to sing …
Director Richard Carroll and team shrink a Broadway romp into a space no bigger than a single-car garage, hemmed in by audience seated on three sides. The approach is reminiscent of Carroll’s smash hit production of Calamity Jane in that there’s a lot of audience interaction (especially for one person seated in Row B) and a conspiratorial tone. But Spamalot lacks Calamity’s comic ease and big heart – not to mention its great songs.
The cast works hard, but the thinness of the material and shallowness of the characters only allows Spamalot to rise so high and a couple of episodes – the obligatory but unnecessary Knights of Ni for example – fizzle. Python pedants may be disappointed to hear that they no longer transform themselves into the Knights Who Say Ecky-ecky-ecky-ecky-f’tang-f’tang-Boing-boing-ole Biscuit Barrel. Everyone else can feel mightily relieved.
Everyone on stage shines though you sense the effort it takes to light up this material. Blake Appelqvist’s Sir Galahad is pure panto prince and Tsindos is a hilariously vainglorious Lancelot. Josie Lane applies her vocal blowtorch to exhilarating effect as The Lady of the Lake. Marty Alix is a live-wire as the not-very-brave Sir Robin.
Rob Johnson turns up in a number of guises (Lakers cheerleader, wandering minstrel, gay Prince Herbert, etc) and makes all of them contribute to the laugh count.
Cramer Cain didn’t show the most robust of singing voices on this night but his dynamism, expressive face and megawatt grin make for a very funny King Arthur and Bishanyia Vincent is excellent as Patsy the horse, forever trotting behind like an equine Baldrick clip-clopping coconuts.