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SPAMALOT: silly fun at Beck

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

You know you aren’t in for the typical Broadway musical, when, at the start of SPAMALOT, now on stage at Beck Center, a historian gives a brief overview of medieval England and a Finnish village appears with dancers slapping each other with dead fish as they perform the “Fisch Schlapping Song.”   That opening, complete with women knocking down their male partners, is just the start of the bizarre goings on.

You don’t go to see SPAMALOT to learn the history of Britain, or gain a political or social message. You go to have a fun time watching a musical version of the 1975 film, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, an irreverent parody of the King Arthur legend, with lots of ditsy sidetracks.

The Broadway production, which starred Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria, was written by Eric Idle, with music by John DuPrez.  It won three awards at the 2004-2005 Tony ceremonies.

We gleefully watch as King Arthur travels the lands with his servant Patsy, trying to recruit Knights for his famous round table in Camelot.  Don’t confuse this with Lerner and Lowe’s CAMELOT.  That version of the story offers the idea of the perfect time, place, and love story.  This look-see shreds the idyllic with hysteria.

In the process of the “plot” development, we are introduced to the Lady of the Lake, a political radical mother and son who think the king should be elected, an Excalibur resort, the presence of and the word of God, the search for the Holy Grail, lewd French soldiers, a Trojan rabbit, cancan dancers, a holy hand grenade, the search for shrubbery, an explanation of why you can’t do Broadway musicals without Jews, the revelation of a gay “princess,” the outing of Lancelot, and the importance of the Beck theatre’s seat A101.

Songs such as “I’m Not Dead Yet,” “Laker Girls Cheer,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” “The Diva’s Lament,” “Here Are You,” “I’m All Alone,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” carry  us on the convoluted journey.

Beck’s production, under the direction of Scott Spence, wisely goes for guffaws.  Though even more exaggeration and a faster pace would have been appropriate, to the delight of the audience, most of the farcical shticks work.

Martin Céspedes, the master of getting non to mediocre dancers look like real hoofers lets lose his creative juices.  The stage explodes with tap, jazz, South American and modern dances.  The classic FIDDLER ON THE ROOF bottle dance, the can-can and a hip hop repertoire add to the fun.

Musical director Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra plays excellently, but they sometimes get over-enthusiastic and drown out the singers.  Since hearing the words being sung is vital to understanding the show and inciting the laughs, this, and some overdone accents, turns out to be a detriment.  The vocal sound of the chorus and cast members is excellent.

The cast is universally good.  Dougfred Miller displays the right pomp and self-effacing dimwit attitude to give us a very credible King Arthur.  Pat Miller delights as Patsy.  Miller and Miller’s “I’m All Alone” is laugh infused glee.

Brian Altman has the right attitude for the macho, yet closeted Lancelot.  Matthew Ryan Thompson uses his comic talents well as Sir Robin.

Tim Allen is fun as Prince Herbert (or should it be Princess Herbert?).  His “Where Are You” and “Here Art You,” are show highlights.  Jessica L. Cope, she of powerful voice and well-endowed body, wails as Lady of the Lake.  Her “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part?),” was delightful.

The female dancers are strong.  The males vary in their abilities, with Storm Hurwitz and Christopher Sanders giving standout performances.

Trad Burns’ set design and Aimee Kluber’s costumes, add the right era touches.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As my grandson Noah, one of the kid reviewers who goes along to give me a fresh eye to shows, said as we exited the theatre, “That was fun.  I really liked it!”  Anyone who is in the mood for silliness and exaggerated humor should  totally enjoy Beck’s ”you’ve got to see this,” SPAMALOT!

SPAMALOT is scheduled to run through August 18 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or