I love jokes that I actually get. As opposed to those I don’t. I agree, an absolutely brilliant thought! Well, maybe not.
As a huge musical theatre buff, I get that moment where, in a duet, the two romantic leads peer into each others eyes ever so close. The lips come near, the soul comes nearer, and in a flash, the lovers turn away as the music and the lights fade.
And dammit, I get sucked into it every time.
Apparently the creators of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” love those moments as well. The schmaltz, the melodrama, and the joy of putting a genre as odd as musical theatre on blast is what “Spamalot” does so well. It’s an inventive piece, based on an even more inventive group of British comedians led by the great Eric Idle, and is handled sharply by the folks at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.
The story is told in flashback, where we learn the history of medieval England. Unfortunately, due to a historical snafu by the narrator, the audience is magically transported to Finland, where men schlep fish, and women shlep bigger fish. Once the confusion is all sorted out, the audience is then sent back to England as was originally intended. This England is not jolly, but certainly old. Monks chant Latin, while citizens do their best to convince plague collectors that they are not dead yet. As King Arthur (Russ Bohard) and his trusty Sancho Panza-like sidekick Patsy (Paul Araquistain) travel around and try to find their knights after being granted the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake (Tracy Chiappone) they continue to meet a motley crew of misfits to try and find the Holy Grail.
What ensues is a wild and zany journey where the knights come across a whole lot of irreverent and hilarious situations. There are the obnoxious French folks, complete with overdone accents and their trusty white-faced mime, “Laker” girls for whom it’s halftime all the time and some advice which states that Jewish people involved in your Broadway show is a license to print programs for a nice, long run.
Dan Demers’ direction is sure and smooth, getting a serious boost from a picturesque set from designer Kuo-Hao Lo. The strength of the production is the way it flows through space, in addition to choreography, handled and mostly executed with joy by Alex Hsu.
Individual performances were more often than not on the mark. The show stealing responsibilities were placed squarely in the hands of the Lady of the Lake, and she more than delivered. The Lady of the Lake is a role that has to be big and bold, grandiose and verbose. Certainly, Chiappone had the chops to belt, and the comic timing to match. Her versions of “The Song That Goes Like This” and “The Diva’s Lament” were moments Chiappone strongly showcased her range and comic style.
Bohard’s interpretation of Arthur was extremely skillful, often having to back away from the slapstick and doing a great job handling the straight, leaving zany to others.
Certain aspects of the show were left a little imbalanced. The technical aspects seemed to suffer at times, with actors not always hitting their light. And while the ensemble vocals were mostly solid, the music and amplification did not always play nice, drowning out the vocalists on stage more than a few times.
The strongest aspects of “Spamalot” are the fact that the cast as a whole really grasped the entire style of the original Monty Python crew. From the joyous Galahad of Thomas Ignatius, the skilled buffoonery of Ray Mendonca’s Sir Robin, and the genuine joy of the knights, “Spamalot” certainly proves its extension worthiness. And the fact that it knows the genre it spoofs so well, it makes those like me positively giddy when there are plenty of jokes I totally get.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Hillbarn Theatre Company of Foster City presents “Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed by Dan Demers
Musical direction by Greg “Suds” Sudmeier
Choreography by Alex Hsu
The Word: Plenty of laughs, and a cast with a firm grasp on the Python comic style earn themselves a worthy extension.
Stars: 3 out of 4
Through Sept. 29th
1285 East Hillsdale Blvd. Foster City, CA 94404
Tickets range from $23 – $40
For tickets, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org