Chicago Theatre Review
Always Look on the BrightSide of Life
Spamalot – Brightside Theatre
Pulling out all the stops, artistic director Jeffrey Cass, his cast and his creative team have mounted a superior production of Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s 2005 Tony Award-winning musical that is entertaining, impressive and often quite clever. For audiences new to this sassy, irreverent musical, BrightSide’s production offers the best of what made this original Broadway show so popular, while adding some unique touches of their own. Glitzy, filled with spectacle, bawdy humor, bad puns and sight gags galore, this version of the “musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’” will please both the most ardent Monty Python fans, as well as anyone unfamiliar with the film. There’s really something for every taste in this laugh-a-minute musical.
Bizarre characters abound throughout. There’s the quirky, easily irritated King Arthur, his devoted squire, Patsy, and all the famous Knights of the Round Table: Lancelot, Galahad, Bedevere, Robin, and others. There’s the cantankerous Black Knight, who stubbornly refuses to step aside despite being hacked to bits; the voluptuous pond-side prima donna, known as the Lady of the Lake, accompanied by her scantily-clad Laker Girls; the Killer Rabbit, a bloodthirsty bunny who attacks without warning; the Knights-Who-Say-Ni who demand shrubberies; and there are minstrels, showgirls and an army of flatulent and insulting Frenchmen. Even God makes an appearance, commanding Arthur and his Knights to follow a quest in search of the Holy Grail.
Eric Luchen’s Spartan scenic design is dominated by two modest fortress towers that flank the proscenium, but that’s only the beginning of his creativity. A full, double-sided castle, a dinghy built for two, an assortment of oversized gambling accouterment, a wooden Trojan rabbit and a dark and very expensive forest all make their way on and off the intimate stage. Shana Hall’s medieval-modern costume creations and Jessica Curtis’ stylized props add so much, lending inventive authenticity and sparkle to the show. Jeni Donahue’s spirited, well-executed choreography, supported by Sarah Giordano’s excellent musical direction, both compliment and drive this production.
Director Jeffrey Cass has skillfully staged and artfully guided his talented cast through this musical farce, perfectly mastering the challenging British humor. His over-the-top approach leaves no joke untapped. Mr. Cass spreads mirth and hilarity, not only over the entire stage, but up and down the aisles and even out into the audience.
As a leading man, Robert Sorensen nobly commands the production as a driven, yet somewhat shortsighted King Arthur. With his rich baritone and deadpan, detached delivery, Sorensen creates a noble presence. He’s wonderfully supported by Scott Kelley, as his faithful sidekick, Patsy. An talented actor, with sharp comic timing and a bright, clear tenor, Mr. Kelley’s a winning combination of elfin warmth and wry magnetism. He charms both Arthur and the audience with his catchy, “Always Look on the BrightSide of Life,” from which the Naperville Theatre takes its name.
As the voluptuous Lady of the Lake, lovely Amanda Walsh simply belts her heart out, wringing every ounce of melodrama from “Find Your Grail,” “The Diva’s Lament” and, in her humorous duet with Galahad, “The Song That Goes Like This.” At times, Ms. Walsh even skillfully mimics the musical stylings of Cher, Celine Dion and other singing superstars. Mik Dempsey is very funny and versatile as Dennis/Sir Galahad, as well as Herbert’s headstrong father and the indomitable Black Knight. Mark Johnson literally sparkles as the closeted Sir Lancelot, but he’s even more hilarious as the taunting French guardsman hurling insults and catapulting cows. Matt Gibson struts his comic stuff as Sir Bedevere and shines in the drag role of Dennis’ Mom. Unfortunately, the actor’s hampered by a costume piece that covers his face, hiding his facial expressions and making his dialogue difficult to understand. And although he underplays his role at times, Connor Hernandez displays frenetic energy and earnest dedication as Sir Robin, particularly in his show stopping “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” The ensemble, all of whom play multiple roles, exercise their comic chops, powerful singing and versatile dancing abilities to the max.
And then there’s Ryan Breig, a charismatic young actor who practically steals the entire show. He plays at least half a dozen memorable and varied roles, and plays each of them with perfection. He opens the show as the pompous Historian, who serves throughout as narrator and our personal guide through Camelot. But he really comes to life as the sickly peasant, Fred, with his hilarious rendition of “I Am Not Dead Yet,” enhanced by some limber, rubber-jointed choreography. Later Mr. Breig becomes a minstrel, a tap-dancing chorus boy and the very tall Knight-Who-Says-Ni. He’s especially funny, however, as the dimwitted, effeminate Prince Herbert. This young triple-threat is someone to watch.
So search no more: the Holy Grail of musical comedies is now playing in Naperville. Who says you can’t successfully adapt popular cult films for the stage? Certainly not the millions of adoring fans who made this musical a huge Chicago hit a few years ago during its out-of-town tryout, and later on Broadway. The musical earned an unprecedented 14 Tony nominations, ultimately winning as Best Musical of the season. Now returning in a much-welcome regional production at BrightSide, this musical adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is just as much of a crowd-pleaser as the original, and it’s more fun than ever.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 3-19 by BrightSide Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall, at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Street, Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the theatre, by calling 630-447-8497 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com