Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Spamalot" at the Orpheum Theatre

Before there was The Book of Mormon, there was Spamalot. A hilariously irreverent musical that makes fun of the form while staying true to it, to great critical and audience acclaim. Spamalot is great fun, but it doesn't have the joyous heart that shines through the profanity of The Book of Mormon. I saw Spamalot on Broadway in 2005, when it won the Tony for best musical over another multi-nominated original musical, The Light in the Piazza. I saw Theater Latte Da's gorgeous production of The Light in the Piazza just a few nights ago, and the two really don't even compare. I don't think Spamalot will go down in the history books as one of the best musicals of its time, but I'm certain Light in the Piazza will. No matter, Spamalot isn't trying to be anything profound, just entertain its audience. And that it did with rousing success. This national tour by Pheonix Entertainment make a quick stop in Minneapolis for three performances in two days, so if you missed it, you're out of luck. Go see The Light in the Piazza instead.

Since I've got another matinee tomorrow, let me get right to the point:
  • Unlike me, you're probably familiar with the British comedy troupe Monty Python, from its late 60s/early 70s BBC show and movies such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Life of Brian. One of the Pythons, Eric Idle, translated many of Monty Python's famous skits and scenes into a musical (with John Du Prez assisting with the music). The plot is loosely the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with much silliness thrown in (a little like a warped musical comedy version of The Game of Thrones, only without the dragons and nudity). King Arthur is given the sword Excaliber by the Lady of the Lake, travels around England (not Finland) to build an army of knights, and is told to find a grail. And since this is a musical, he does find the grail, and the show ends with a wedding.
  • Spamalot includes nods to several musicals (from West Side Story to Fiddler on the Roof), as well as musical theater standards like glorious duets and grand divas. One of Arthur's quests is to put on a Broadway musical, which is difficult because that's something that happens a thousand years in the future in a country that hasn't been discovered yet. Spamalot is definitely in on its own joke.
  • Several members of the hard-working cast turn in great performances in one or more roles. The appropriately named Arthur Rowan is a goodly King Arthur, who is perhaps not the best ruler or fighter, but whose heart is in the right place. Glenn Giron amuses as Arthur's loyal servant Patsy, who works the coconuts. My favorite knight is the not-so-brave Sir Robin, with an engaging performance by Kasidy Devlin in this and several other roles. The award for best performance in multiple diverse roles goes to Adam Grabau as: Sir Lancelot (who turns into The Boy from Oz), the French Taunter (performing some really fantastic raspberries, as well as delivering the classic line "I fart in your general direction"), and the taller than life Knight who says Ni.
  • As the Lady of the Lake, Abigail Raye does her best in this role that demands incredible vocals as well as comedic talent, but doesn't quite live up to the Tony-winning performance of the divine Sara Ramirez. But that's really an unfair comparison; there's a reason Sara won a Tony. I was fortunate enough to see her incomparable performance, and she has that rare talent to sing comedically while still sounding truly amazing. With apologies to Ms. Raye, Sara will always be my Lady of the Lake (check her out on Grey's Anatomy, where they occasionally allow her to sing).
  • The sets and costumes are pretty impressive for a tour that only stays in one place a night or two. The songs are fun and catchy, and the dance numbers splendid.
  • One element of this production that gets a big thumbs down from me is the use of recorded music. When I looked into the pit at intermission (which I love to do, as a former pit member), I saw four brass instruments, a keyboard, and several large pieces of electronic equipment with flashing lights and buttons hooked up to a laptop. I understand that touring with a full orchestra may be impractical and expensive (tours often employ local musicians to fill out the pit), especially a tour that moves as much as this one, but I would happily have traded in a few sequined costumes or trees in the very expensive forest for a woodwind player or percussionist. I was sitting a few rows back from the stage, and I could definitely hear a difference. The thin sounding recorded music made it seem a little like Broadway karaoke. I recently read this, and while I'm not suggesting that this tour is anything like the torture this person describes, it concerns me. 
  • Sorry to be a downer, let's all just look on the bright side of life! Spamalot definitely left me with a smile on my face.

the Knights of the Round Table