The Cast of "Monty Python's Spamalot." Photo: David Cooper
Thank Eric Idle for turning the cult film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) into the smashing Broadway musical "Monty Python's Spamalot" (2005). The Monty Python veteran, who co-wrote the film with his hilarious comrades, is the major artistic force behind the stage adaptation, which is currently running at the Arts Club's Stanley Theatre in Vancouver. Imagine Idle's challenge when he set out to write the script, co-write the music, and write all the lyrics. But Broadway and Python, it seems, lack taste, and that is why the two mesh so well.
The famous scenes are present in this show, and their famous characters dressed with careful attention to detail by Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup. Also replicated are Python-esque large format cartoons, like God's giant foot. Set designer Marshall McMahen is as adept at this homage to Python as he is designing for the overdone and tasteless Broadway show numbers that consume the stage.
This Arts Club production is, on the main, a very good piece of work. Director Dean Paul Gibson presents the broad Monty Python comedy well and, with the assistance of choreographer Lisa Stevens, manages to satirize Broadway musicals very well. Stevens' regular use of Broadway dance clichés gives the show's musical satire a bit of Broadway authenticity.
Andrew Cownden is very good as the King's servant and constant companion, Patsy. He has a lovely, strong voice that soars in "King Arthur's Song" and again in the second-act anthem "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Cownden reveals his strong comic skills when his character must silently endure Arthur's lament that "I'm All Alone." The insulted King's-companion reveals his frustration and anger with movement and facial expressions. All well-directed by Gibson.
On the whole, though, Gibson does not inject the kind of energy a show like this demands. "Spamalot" is so silly and over-the-top, the production needs a tone to match it. This one plods along. Gibson shows too much reverence for the classic scenes from the film and that slows the pace of the presentation. The whole production ought to be faster, crisper, and brighter. That said, many of the singers have difficulty with Idle's rapid-fire lyrics, so the show that is too slow is actually too fast for some of the singers.
Also, Gibson makes a strange choice for King Arthur. David Marr plays it straight and serious, a kind of concerned observer to the play's action. He should display more showmanship to the audience and leadership to the knights. One craves a high-energy performance, more of a ringmaster than a sideshow. Arthur could kill with clowning. Additionally, the lavish show numbers, so well choreographed, are a bit sluggish and underwhelming. Despite the glitz, it feels like Gibson is forcing the frivolity.
MacLeod is ideal as The Lady of the Lake, shifting personality as the play requires, from magical guide, to obnoxious Las Vegas singer, to angry diva, and more. Her voice is beautiful and has power where she needs it. Josh Epstein as Sir Robin is good throughout, and brings down the house with "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." Other performers are very good, including Jay Hindle as Lancelot, Scott Perrie as Herbert, and Jonathan Winsby as Galahad.
"Monty Python's Spamalot" by Eric Idle, lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, directed by Dean Paul Gibson, at the Arts Club's Stanley Theatre until June 29. Tickets available here.