Musical Theatre West’s new production of Spamalot is so much over-the-top silliness and fun that I’m surprised they weren’t selling sandwiches and baked goods made with Spam (that much maligned concoction of compressed deli meats) at the snack bar during intermission.
Frankly, I’m amazed I enjoyed Spamalot as much as I did. Call me uptight, but musical slapstick jerkiness is not my usual cup o’ tea.
But this production is so bold in its shameless execution, and so wonderfully cast, that almost every gag comes across with the full force of its original intent. Every song is sung with flawless vocal quality and immense heart. You can’t hold back with a show like Spamalot, and MTW makes no such attempt. So it all just works.
The always fabulous Davis Gaines stars as King Arthur. Whether Gaines is playing the lead in Man of La Mancha, or the Phantom, or the benevolent king of the round table, he brings a lovable kindness to each role that makes you sad to leave the theater when the performance ends. You just want to meet the man and get to know him. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he is blessed with both speaking and singing voices that easily match those of musical theater veteran Richard Kiley.
Billed as “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Spamalot’s book and lyrics are by Eric Idle with music by Idle and John du Perez. The musical takes a half-hearted stab at following the movie’s story line. As such, it frequently and delightfully digresses to showcase chorus lines of gorgeous, rhinestoned dancing girls, forcefully flatulent French castle guards, and a killer bunny.
Once Gaines’s intrepid Arthur has assembled his cadre of knights with which to battle all comers in his quest for the grail, his royal contingent ventures into the forest where they meet up with all manner of obstacles. The annoying but hysterically funny “knights who say ni” exemplify those who stand between the king and his goal. These verbally challenged woodland dwellers also typify the nuttiness of the show, as does a “Trojan Rabbit” of sorts that enters Arthur’s destination castle empty, with the men having absent-mindedly neglected to hide in it. Later on, the king and his knights are tasked with acquiring a plant, comically referred to as “a shrubbery.”
Larry Raben, Jamie Torcellini, and Tami Tappan Damiano guest-star in numerous roles, each tackling a sizable share of the solo numbers with aplomb. Damiano’s portrayal of the Lady of the Lake is delivered with the exceptional vocal versatility that the part demands.
Richard Israel also guest-stars in a number of roles, two of the funniest being Not Dead Fred and gay Prince Herbert.
When Damiano’s Lady of the Lake character is introduced, her accompanying chorus of dancing girls make a startling transformation into a team of modern-day gymnastic dancers called the Laker Girls.
Some highlight numbers are “I am Not Dead Yet” about a careless collection of “dead” bodies, all of which are still alive; “The Song that Goes Like This” that parodies the overwrought emotional ballads that pervade almost every Broadway musical (the excess of shows such as those of Andrew Lloyd Webber get special attention); “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” that spoofs the necessity for any successful Broadway production to employ Jews; “The Diva’s Lament” wherein Damiano comes center stage wearing a dressing gown, distraught over the passage of a full half hour or so since her character’s last appearance in the show; and “I’m All Alone” in which Gaines laments his isolation while his man-servant Patsy stands a few inches away weighed down like a human beast of burden, asking, “What am I, chopped liver?”
There are countless more highlights, many of them deliriously funny and some even endearing.
The 20-member cast also includes Zachary Ford, Dan Callaway, Danny Stiles, Jebbel Arce, John Paul Batista, Kathryn Burns, Nikki Della Penta, Brad Fitzgerald, Ashley Matthews, Madison Mitchell, Daniel May, Neil Starkenberg, Clay Stefanki, Matthew J. Vargo, and Carly Wielstein.
Steven Glaudini directs the production, with musical direction by John Glaudini.
Fabulous glitz-glam sets and costumes are by Tim Hatley. Complicated technical direction comes off without a hitch in the hands of Kevin Clowes.
Spamalot is a preposterous profusion of likable characters, hummable songs, and utter silliness whose infectious charm will win you over. Even if you tend to be nonsense-averse. Honestly, you will leave the theater happy.
Musical Theatre West’s Spamalot continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located at 6200 E. Atherton St., on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, through July 15. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 2pm with a 7pm performance added on July 8. Tickets start at $20 (plus a $3 per ticket service charge) and can be purchased through the MTW Box Office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or online at musical.org .