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By Bridgette M. Redman
Posted: Aug. 15, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.
Absurd. Hilarious. Ludicrous. Slightly naughty. Shrubberlicious.
These are all things that Monty Python fans will expect from a musical based on the British comedians' sketches. And those are all things that "Spamalot" delivers in spades in the production at the Barn Theatre in Augusta.
It is a show that features just how talented their many interns and resident actors are, for it is the ensemble that carries the night with pratfall after prank after crude joke. They embrace the absurdity of the musical and play it for all it is worth without ever worrying about what conventions they're breaking or what sensibilities they might be offending.
It is good that there is such strength in the ensemble, for where the show falls flat is in the performance of the lead, Fee Waybill as King Arthur. Waybill, best known as the lead singer of The Tubes, is coming off a stellar and energetic performance in "The Rocky Horror Show" as Dr. Frank 'N Furter. While he embodied that role, he seemed lost as King Arthur. While the choice to play Arthur as a straight man against the over-the-top knights around him could have been a legitimate choice, it fell flat on opening night. Instead, Waybill gave the impression of an actor who was unprepared – looking too often at the other dancers to determine what his choreography was and fighting for lines in too many scenes.
But if Waybill seemed lost, those around him more than made up for his weakness. Roy Brown, a regular at the Barn, excelled as Patsy, Arthur's constant and ignored companion. He wielded the coconuts with great skill, not just for the expected horse, but to create the tap dancing for his monarch. His reactions to all that went on around him were always spot on and encouraged the audience to stay engaged.
Kevin Robert White, Patrick Hunter, Lance Fletke and Nick Pearson were the Knights of the Round Table, and all were constantly entertaining as comedic actors, singers and dancers. Spamalot's script gave each of them an opportunity to shine in different ways. Hunter's Lancelot starts as little more than a dim bully until it came time for him to rescue what he thinks is a damsel in distress. White's Sir Robin shits himself when faced with any danger, but knows how to sing and dance and put on a Broadway musical, despite America not even being discovered yet. Fletke's Galahad, previously known as Dennis, is a full-fledged prat whose best material comes early on as he pontificates on government and then sings the hilarious duet "The Song That Goes Like This" with the Lady of the Lake.
Intern Amy Harpenau gets more than ample opportunity to show off her versatility as a singer and her charisma as an actor. She is Diva #1 in this show, and she knows it. If there is a fourth wall, she never acknowledges it, even singing a song in the second act, "The Diva's Lament," complaining that she's been spending too much time back stage and not getting enough stage time since intermission.
"Spamalot" is not merely a remake of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," though much of that movie and its quest appears in the story. Rather this is a version that makes fun of theater and musicals while throwing out lots of Easter eggs to Monty Python fans – from the "I'm not dead yet" to the plumage of sparrows (European vs. African) and the Knights who Say Ni.
The first act is practically a tribute to many of the most popular Python sketches, while the second act spends far more time mocking theater and those who create it. If some of the expected skits are left out, it is because it is necessary in "Spamalot" that all of the knights survive to the end so that the "Not Yet Dead" song can be reprised as "Not Yet Wed" and the musical come to an ending worthy of a Shakespearean comedy with weddings all around.
Any review of the Barn Theatre's "Spamalot" would be remiss if it didn't mention the hard-working ensemble that had its constant costume changes to create huge song and dance numbers. They were Finnish fisch schlappers in one number and a cart full of plague victims in another. They were Vegas style Camelot singers and Lady of the Lake cheerleaders. They became Sir Robin's minstrels, French taunters, and addlepated guards. Each time they created just the right amount of absurdity and were skillful in each of their incarnations.
The technical staff got to join the fun, with creative solutions for message-delivering arrows, flying set pieces and creating a way for the Black Knight to duel King Arthur and suffer his "flesh wounds." Cigarette-smoking, coffee-drinking stage hands frequently made bored appearances on stage, making no attempt to hide how they were making the "stage magic" happen, yet another way that "Spamalot" makes fun of theatrical conventions. They complain about the under-utilization of their "very expensive" forest and sometimes make commentary on the actors.
"Spamalot" cares little for plot or theme. This isn't a serious show. Rather it is a fun romp meant to entertain both Python fans and those who have never even heard of the surreal comedy group.
SHOW DETAILS: "Monty Python's Spamalot" continues at the Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta, Tuesday-Sunday through Aug. 26. Tickets: $34. For information: 269-731-4121 or www.barntheatre.com.
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