Monday, January 26, 2009
In the first couple scenes of Spamalot, King Arthur (Richard Chamberlin) "gallops" onto the stage, followed by his assistant Patsy (Brad Bradley), who, in true Monty Python-fashion, clicks two halves of a coconut against one other. Spamalot is, essentially, a modern twist on the old favorite, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The characters talk of swallows, the Knights of Ni demand a shrubbery, and the killer rabbit - in puppet-form - takes a victim, in addition to many other Monty Python moments that get translated for the Chicago Auditorium Theater stage.
Part of the creativity of this musical, though, is the way it pokes fun at and parodies contemporary culture, especially Broadway theater. From tap-dancing to turning Camelot into a modern-day Vegas, the director Mike Nichols goes over-the-top with the musical's bright colors and utter ridiculousness, just as a Monty Python play should. As part of the "contemporary" aspect of the play, expect to see plenty of half-dressed women too. They don't usually have any sort of purpose, like the "Laker Girls" cheer during the first Lady of the Lake song or the many burlesque show moments, but I wouldn't expect them to. Characters, too, have unexpected quirks new to the Monty Python story, such as Robin pooping in his pants every time he gets scared, and Lancelot coming out as homosexual (after saving the feminine Hebert, of course).
The woman playing Lady of the Lake, Merle Dandridge, gives an outstanding performance, one of the best of the bunch. Her vocal range surpasses everyone else on stage - highlighted when one of the characters says he can't sing as high as she does - and she's a delight to watch. Some of the best moments, though, come from the improv, which changes depending on the city that the play is showing in. For Chicago, the Knights of Ni make fun of the "Da Bears," saying they'd have a more contemporary reference if the Bears had gotten into the playoffs. The actors also bring an audience member on stage, creating yet another moment of hilarity in what is already an entertaining story.