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With N.C. School of the Arts graduate and big Broadway star Gary Beach playing King Arthur to a fare-the-well, the current U.S. tour of Monty Python’s Spamalot, now playing in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, has plenty of candlepower. (Indeed, it is one of the unquestioned highlights of Broadway Series South’s stellar 2007-08 season.) But this whimsical and wickedly funny retelling of the story of King Arthur and the not-so-noble knights of the Round Table, and their courageous but futile quest to find the coveted Holy Grail, also features an incandescent performance by Esther Stilwell as the mysterious Lady of the Lake, who rises from her watery abode to give the magical sword Excalibur to the king of the Britons and later returns, after the disastrous Battle of Camlann, to take the fatally wounded King Arthur to Avalon.
Beach, who took home the 2001 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his hilarious portrayal of Roger De Bris in The Producers, and Stilwell, who played Grizabella the Glamour Cat in the 25th-anniversary U.S. tour of Cats (2006-07), not only bring these moonstruck medieval characters fully and gloriously to life; but they also sing, dance, and cut the fool superbly in this marvelous musical farce, which features sassy songs by John Du Prez and Eric Idle and a brassy PG-13 rated book and lyrics by Idle, based on the impudent and irreverent 1975 screenplay for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Spamalot jokes are frequently puerile and the repartee is frequently crass — in other words, it’s a vintage sampler of the scatological wit of the wild-and-crazy British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-83).
Gary Beach has a field day as the spunky, but sometimes foolhardy and often befuddled Sixth Century ruler of Camelot, who spends a lot of his time stumbling around the backwoods of Merry Old England and being outwitted by a series of colorful and increasingly contemptuous rogues and scoundrels — one of whom, The French Taunter (Patrick Heusinger) — raises the Bronx cheer to an art form in razzing the impotent Arthur as the sputtering can lays siege to an impregnable castle.
The lovely and supremely talented Esther Stilwell, in an eye-catching array of dazzling costumes designed by Tim Hatley, brightens every scene she enters and delivers a show-stopping rendition of “The Diva’s Lament,” in which she wonders out loud, “What ever happened to my part?” Moreover, she quickens many a male pulse in a highly appreciative Broadway Series South audience, which rose as one at the end of Tuesday night’s performance to give Spamalot a thunderous standing ovation.
Brad Bradley is wonderfully witty in the thankless role of King Arthur’s devoted servant and all-around dog’s-body Patsy, faithfully clip-clopping behind his frequently lost liege; Patrick Heusinger is a scream as a limp-wristed Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, and Tim the Enchanter; Ben Davis is a riot as the blonde and beefy dim-bulb Sir Galahad and the bellicose Black Knight, whose ill-advised attack on King Arthur leaves him without an arm to raise to surrender or a leg to stand on; and Christopher Sutton puts on a clinic in comic acting as he smoothly segues from role to role, first playing the stuffy Historian who narrates the show, then bringing down the house with his comic complaints as Not Dead Fred, and finally camping it up as the cross-dressing Prince Herbert.
This gala national tour of Spamalot, handsomely produced by Boyett Ostar Productions, with smart and saucy Monty Pythonesque musical staging by director Mike Nichols and choreographer Casey Nicholaw, reproduces Tim Hatley’s magnificent set and costume designs from the original Broadway production, plus Elaine J. McCarthy’s projection design, Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design, David Brian Brown’s hair and wig design, Joseph A. Campayno’s make-up design, and ACME Sound Partners’ sound design, which allows the prerecorded voice of John Cleese to provoke belly-laughs as the Voice of God.
The small but mighty Spamalot touring orchestra, under the direction of Adam Souza, makes Larry Hochman’s orchestrations, Glen Kelly’s music arrangements, and Todd Ellison’s vocal arrangements sparkle. Together, this remarkable cast and crew truly make Spamalot a night of musical theater to remember.
Broadway Series South presents Monty Python’s Spamalot Thursday-Friday, April 17-18, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 19, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 20, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $37-$81. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060 or through the presenter's website. Group Rates (for parties of 20 or more): 919/857-4565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Student Discount Program: Students with valid ID may purchase any remaining seats for any performance, except the Saturday evening show, for $20 each at the Progress Energy Center Box Office, starting one hour before show time. Note: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh, NC (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio-describe the 8 p.m. April 19th performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Show: http://www.montypythonsspamalot.com/ (Spamalot home page), http://montypythonsspamalot.com/cast.php?section=151 (Broadway Cast), and http://montypythonsspamalot.com/cast.php?section=235 (U.S. Tour Cast:). Videos: http://montypythonsspamalot.com/media.php. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071853/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=384261. Gary Beach: http://www.garybeach.com/ (official web site), http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=73280 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0063460/ (Internet Movie Database). Esther Stilwell: http://estherstilwell.com/index.html. Patrick Heusinger: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1738176/ (Internet Movie Database). James Beaman: http://www.jamesbeaman.com/. Bree Branker: http://www.breebranker.com/ [as of 6/22/08] or http://web.mac.com/breebranker/iWeb/e-bree./welcome.html [inactive 6/08].