THEATER REVIEW: “Monty Python’s Spamalot” @ Mac-Haydn
Review by Barbara Waldinger
To find the Holy Grail, it seems that the legendary King Arthur was required to produce a Broadway show; at least that’s Monty Python’s conceit. And the production of Monty Python’s Spamalot now playing at Chatham’s Mac-Haydn Theatre is more than worthy of the Grail — it is a genuine extravaganza! On a tiny stage in this theater-in-the-round in a bucolic setting with props and set pieces visible outside and along the walkways into the performance space, we meet a huge cast of young people who sing and dance their hearts out (often at the same time), adorned with the most fabulous costumes imaginable.
Monty Python’s Spamalot, very loosely adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” premiered on Broadway in 2005, directed by Mike Nichols. Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical, and two Drama Desk Awards, the play spawned international productions and tours. A madcap parody of Broadway musicals as well as the Arthurian and Camelot legends, the show recounts how King Arthur recruits knights to join him at a round table in Camelot, where they embark on the God-ordained quest for the Holy Grail, encountering ridiculous obstacles and outrageous characters along the way.
This production, like its Broadway counterpart, stuffs everything but the kitchen sink into its jam-packed song and dance numbers. Lunacy reigns throughout, beginning with the first song, which illustrates life in Finland, though the helpful projections on two walls show a map of England in 932 A.D. The energetic ensemble, in colorful Finnish costumes and blond wigs, gaily smack one another with fish, in what purports to be a native folk dance. At length, King Arthur admonishes them: this is England, not Finland, whereupon they morosely vacate the stage, having misheard or misunderstood the narrator.
Camelot, it turns out, is a Las Vegas resort with showgirls in sexy outfits and a strip tease by the Lady of the Lake, who starts out in armor and ends in one of her gorgeous silver and feather concoctions. Speaking of strip teases, later in the proceedings Lancelot’s love for a gay prince is celebrated in a disco with his knightly garb removed to reveal a tight, glittering get-up, complete with an outsized codpiece. The insanity is ubiquitous: nonstop. Characters seemingly wander in from numerous familiar shows to join a Fiddler on the Roof take-off, as part of a search for the Jews who are essential to guarantee a successful musical comedy. There are so many references to other shows, to modern events, to anything the characters free-associate with whatever is going on, that we are left laughing and breathless as we await the next surprise.