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Monty Python and Eric Idle fans will rejoice with North Carolina Theatre’s 2016-17 season opener, Spamalot. The musical follows the general proceedings of the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with some theatrical indulgences. Both Holy Grail and Spamalot tell about the travels of King Arthur, his squire Patsy, and his Knights of the Round Table (Sirs Robin, Lancelot, Galahad, and Bedevere) in their quest for the Holy Grail through the Finnish – I mean English – countryside. While Spamalot contains selections from some of the film’s most famous scenes, it also incorporates original musical numbers and new characters, such as the beloved Lady of the Lake. King Arthur’s men encounter Not Dead Fred, the French Taunter, and the Knights of Ni around and through songs such as “The Song that Goes Like This” (used by auditioning mezzo-sopranos far and wide) and “Find Your Grail,” both now familiar and much-loved by musical theatre enthusiasts far and wide.
As NCT’s President and CEO, Lisa Grele Barrie declared in her curtain speech (one of her last, sadly, as Ms. Barrie will be stepping down at the end of the season), NCT’s Spamalot truly brings Broadway to the Triangle. Both cast and crew of this production boast prestigious theatrical credits, with the skills to back them up. Jennifer Werner has directed a well-timed comedy with seamless transitions, of which there are many. Staying true to the Monty Python sketch comedy approach, Spamalot includes ten major scene changes in the first act alone, some with minor to not-so-minor changes within the scene. Technical director Bill Yates Jr. and the production team (James Kronzer, scenic; Craig Stelzenmuller, lighting; Aline Johnson, properties; Eric Collins and Brian Hunt, sound; and Lisa Tireman, costumes) executed the show’s original designs with perceived ease. Projections, flying scenery, spotlights, and sound effects all accentuated punch lines in Idle’s witty book and lyrics.
True to form, too, was the highly decorated cast. Jeff McCarthy as King Arthur was suitably dignified and assuming – in the way leaders born into their position will be – allowing Arthur to infuse his knights with the same confidence as one by one they joined his cause. Squire Patsy, played by Brandon Haagenson, was the perfect foil, unassuming and loyal. Haagenson’s Patsy shone most brightly in response to Arthur’s lament “I’m All Alone.” Arthur’s knights were well balanced as a troupe and wittily funny. James Ludwig as Sir Robin delivered a hysterical number that paid irreverent homage to classic Broadway numbers; Jacob Smith captured two popular roles in Sir Galahad and the Black Knight, Danny Bernardy also brought on raucous applause as the famous French Taunter and Sir Lancelot, particularly in his encounters with Prince Herbert. Pierce Cassedy earned his ranks among the crowd favorites as both the dainty Prince Herbert and the spry Not Dead Fred; Fred showcased some of the best solo choreography of the show, courtesy of choreographer Brian J. Marcum. Benny Elledge rounded out the Knights of the Round Table as the gallant Sir Bedevere; he also added wacky intrigue as Sir Galahad’s busty, bearded mother. Ta’rea Campbell was glamorous and all-encompassing, rounding out the cast with her soulful diva stylings as the Lady of the Lake. (Bios of the cast can be found on the NCT website.)
The cast and crew delivered at every turn. With so many throwbacks to the film favorites, even Monty Python elites will allow the liberties Idle takes with the script and direction of the musical. The plot, as loose as it was in the film, becomes even zanier on stage. Still, the purpose remains true, and, in a time of political turmoil, every theatregoer will revel in the escapism of NCT’s hilarious Spamalot.
Spamalot continues through Sunday, November 20. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.