- Massachusetts Critic
Based on the outlandish humor of Monty Python and affectionately ripped off from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this 2005 Tony Award winner for Best Musical is the story of King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, and their quest for the Holy Grail. The book and lyrics were written by Eric Idle, who was also one of the original writers of the film’s screenplay. The memorable music was written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez.
This production was cleverly directed and choreographed by Billy Sprague Jr. to suit North Shore’s in-the-round theatre. It features bright and functional, yet realistic costumes from Mark Nagle that shine against the simplistic set design from Michael M. Harvey. I particularly liked that the stage was painted to look like stone and easily took on the appearance of the round table mentioned in the show. In addition, projector screens were used for animated clips at various times throughout the show. Music director Jesse Warkentin conducted the ten person orchestra while often actively participating in the humor with a number of bits that are unique to this production.
In his curtain speech, owner and producer Bill Hanney told the audience to “prepare to sprain your funny bone” and while I thought this was a bold statement to make, it turned out to be quite true for many audience members; especially those familiar with Monty Python’s farcical comedy style. While the audience enjoyed most numbers, there were a few that received uproarious laughter and/or applause. The first was “I’m Not Dead Yet” lead by Not Dead Fred, played by Sean Bell, whose portrayal was hilarious. Bell also played the Historian, French Guard, Minstrel and Prince Herbert, each with unique characterizations and vocal variation, but all with supreme comedic timing and talent. He was easily an audience favorite. Another was Brad Bradley, as King Arthur’s sidekick Patsy. Last seen as Bert in NSMT’s production of Mary Poppins, I was thrilled to see him back for this production in a role that he was understudy for in the original Broadway production. As Patsy, his characterization and vocals were perfection and he fantastically led “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. His interactions with King Arthur, remarkably played by Al Bundonis, were delightful to watch as they were both amusing and heartwarming. The Knights were wonderfully portrayed by James Beaman as Sir Robin, Jonathan Gregg as Sir Lancelot, and J.D. Daw as Sir Dennis Galahad. All three each played two additional roles with similar gusto.
The Lady of the Lake was stunningly played by Haley Swindal. Though her vocals in “Knights of the Round Table”, at times, lacked support and control, she handled the vocal Olympics rather well, especially considering it is one of the most complex and challenging songs in the show; particularly for the Lady of the Lake part. Minutes later however, in “Find Your Grail” and again in “The Diva’s Lament”, her powerhouse vocals reigned supreme and the audience was enrapt by not only her voice, but her charismatic characterization of the iconic Lady of the Lake. Swindal is certainly a force to be reckoned with and it is easy to see why she was cast in this role.
The large, talented cast was bursting with energy and enthusiasm throughout; dancing up a storm and singing their hearts out. Most played multiple roles changing costumes every few minutes. It was clear from start to finish that they enjoy performing this production and bringing lighthearted joy and laughter to the audience.
While being familiar with Monty Python is not necessary to enjoy this production, it certainly helps you fully appreciate the humor. © SPAMALOT runs about 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission and plays Tuesdays-Sundays through October 9th. Tickets range from $54-$79 with group rates available for groups 10 or more. The show contains adult humor and profanity; it may not be suitable for all audiences. For tickets or more information visit www.nsmt.org , call 978-232-7200 or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA.
Photo: Al Bundonis (King Arthur) and Brad Bradley (Patsy) in North Shore Music Theatre's production of Monty Python's SPAMALOT playing thru October 9. Photo © Paul Lyden.
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