Music by: John Du Prez and Idle
Produced by: City Lights Theater Company
Featuring: Ken Boswell as King Arthur, Clara Rose Walker as Lady of the Lake, Nick Manfredi as Sir Robin, Mackenszie Drae as Sir Lancelot, Josiah Frampton as Patsy, James Snell as Sir Galahad, Jeremy Ryan as Sir Bedevere and Ryan Mardesich as Mr. Everything
Directed by: Jeffrey Bracco
Choreography by: Jennifer Gorgulho
Musical direction by: Michael Johnson
When: July 24-August 31, 2014
Where: City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose, California
Tickets:$17-$35. Visit cltc.org or call 408-295-4200
'Find Your Grail'
If in need of a solid dose of silliness and really, who among us is not? there is a good production of "Monty Python's Spamalot" at City Lights in San Jose, just waiting to deliver two hours of inspired, hilarious goofiness.
It's a big, goofy musical with book and lyrics by Eric Idle, loosely based on the nutty movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
Much like the old and wonderful telly show by Monty Python, it's a play that starts in an unexpected place, vaguely has a story to tell, and takes a convoluted, generally irrational journey to deliver that tale, all the time throwing in nutty stuff and bits of social commentary that may be quickly forgotten, or not.
The stuffy historian, with help from a backscreen projection, introduces us to England in 932 A.D., except that the ensemble hits the stage with the "Fisch Schlapping Song." The historian stops that nonsense, reminding that he said ENG-land, not FINland, and the ensemble, embarrassed, exits.
Then out come some monks, marching to a dirge, bonking themselves in the heads with what appear to be heavy Bibles.
At City Lights, that was the first minor annoyance for me, among several to come. At least one of the monks simply couldn't get the timing right on the bonk. It was like being in the audience at a concert where the audience couldn't clap in time.
The next annoyance came after King Arthur arrives, and one peasant asks another, "How can you tell he's a king?"
"Because he's not covered in shit," says the other peasant.
And both of those fine performers were dressed in freshly laundered, perfectly clean costumes, and their faces were so brightly scrubbed that I suspect their mothers were backstage with wet washclothes.
Ken Boswell makes a fine King Arthur, a part that requires frequent swings between dead seriousness and goofiness. He doesn't always carry that royal swagger, but hits it enough that it works.
Clara Rose Walker is an absolute joy to watch as the Lady of the Lake, because she has such a great smile when appropriate, and is hilarious when she is being the cranky diva. Erin Haney's gowns look fabulous on her. Beautiful. There are times I wanted her to be more of a belter on the songs, but most of the time she is a good singer. She has a real gift for comedy.
Ryan Mardesich is excellent in all his several parts pompous and distinguished as the historian; hilarious as Not-Dead Fred; even more hilarious as the minstrel who sings about "brave Sir Robin," who "soiled his pants and ran away"; and also hilarious as Prince Herbert, trapped in a tower, but with really nice curtains.
Mardesich is one talented guy. He was hugely powerful as Moritz in "Spring Awakening" at Foothill Music Theatre, and is consistently excellent in this show, which will be his last in California for a while; after "Spamalot" closes, he is off to the Boston Conservatory to pursue an MFA in musical theater. Catch him while you can.
Nick Manfredi is very good, and appealing, as Sir Robin and a couple of other roles. Mackenszie Drae sometimes seemed a little too serious early on as Sir Lancelot (but more fun later, when he meets Herbert), and is hilarious in several other roles, including as a French taunter. James Snell, as Dennis who becomes Sir Galahad, is very good in delivering the show's speech about medieval economics and government, and nails a couple of other roles. Jeremy Ryan was very funny as Dennis' mom. and also fine as Sir Bedevere and as Concorde. I would have liked to see more smeary dirt on Josiah Frampton's face as Patsy, but otherwise he was quite good as Arthur's servant, and did a fine job singing an Idle classic, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (lifted not from "Holy Grail," but from "Life of Brian").
All of the principals looked too bright and shiny, really. Only Arthur and the Lady of the Lake should be sparking clean, and maybe Lancelot and Galahad early in their careers as knights.
Lots of excellent singing and dancing going on in the ensembles. Jennifer Gorgulho's choreography was fun and funny, and added twerking, which made for some new laughs. All the ensemble members are in to what they do, and add a lot of fun to the show.
This wacky musical has King Arthur and Patsy clomping along, pretending to ride horses, with Patsy providing the clip-clops of horses' hooves with a pair of empty coconut shells. We all know it's silly, but it works as humor because they take it so seriously. Brilliant writing by Monty Python.
They are seeking knights, which leads to a great deal of ironic dialogue and jokes, and the dancing Laker Girls when the Lady of the Lake comes out.
Then they are seeking the Holy Grail, which leads to a number of silly adventures, including the battle with the Black Knight, the distress of dealing with the Knights Who Say "Ni," the need for a Broadway musical and a battle with The Killer Rabbit.
A detail I liked in this show were the rabbit puppets. Very nicely done, which isn't always the case with this show.
Haney's costume design was excellent throughout from medieval serfs' rags to Vegas glad rags to the knights' and Arthur's fancy duds, everything looked good. Kudos to dialect coach Kimberly Morhne Hill everyone in this show had some kind of well-done English or French accent, and that is very rare. Scenic design by Ron Gasparinetti got the job done, although the window shutters seemed tacked on, which was distracting.
Sound by George Psarras was good, although I wonder if maybe he and director Jeffrey Bracco were holding Boswell and Walker back when they should have been belting on some of their tunes.
Lighting design by Nick Kumamoto is very much a part of the show, and very well done. The backdrop projections showed the projector light rather too brightly at first, which was annoying.
The show uses sound tracks for music, which works just fine. There was actual tap-dancing in this production, which is not always seen in "Spamalot."
Email John Orr at email@example.com