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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Find Your Grail at Toby's 'Spamalot'

We’ll never know if King Arthur, his subjects and rivals actually behaved as they did on the stage of Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, but if they had, it would have been one uproarious era.  In the musical theatre’s version of the 1975 film Monty Python’s Spamalot     (with a number of differences from the film), director Mark Minnick and his cast and crew offers up one hilarious, laugh-a-second production to the delight of the audience.

Photo by Kirstine Christiansen
The book and lyrics were by Eric Idle who also composed the music with John Du Prez.  Mike Nichols directed the original Broadway production of Spamalot in 2005 garnering three Tony Awards including Best Musical among 14 nominations.   It ran for over 1,500 performances, and the show has been seen in over a dozen countries.

Exquisitely costumed and staged, the performers at Toby’s have as much fun as the patrons, as the zaniness of Monty Python is executed to near perfection. Spamalot’s goofy irreverent plot, eschewing any semblance of political correctness, centers on King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail.    But that merely serves as a vehicle to string together a series of oddball encounters and shtick augmented by a deliciously funny and clever score.
Ross Scott Rawlings, who earned a well-deserved ovation at show’s end on the night it was reviewed, led the excellent six-piece orchestra that supported the talented vocalists as they conquer each number with aplomb.  First and foremost in that regard is Helen Hayes Award winner Priscilla Cuellar who plays the role The Lady of the Lake. 
As the only female lead in the cast, Ms. Cuellar demonstrates her sensational vocal talents with clarity and strength.  She hits the right notes in such group numbers as “Come With Me,” “Find Your Grail,” and “The Song That Goes Like This.”  But her magnificent solo, “The Diva’s Lament,” is a show stopper.

The astoundingly versatile Lawrence B. Munsey, who plays the central character, King Arthur, is the production’s rock.  Never disappointing throughout his professional career, Mr. Munsey plays every part with verve and magnificent attention to detail.  His performance in Spamalot is no exception using his commanding stage presence and muscular voice.

Consistently a fine actor with a penchant for well-timed and delivered comic lines when called upon, Mr. Munsey’s singing voice also shines. “King Arthur’s Song,” “Come With Me” with Ms. Cuellar, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” a glorious dance number with his Knights, and “I’m Alone” were stellar performances.
Demonstrating the true disciplined star that he is, Mr. Munsey manages beyond all odds to keep a straight face throughout the non-stop insanity of the plot and the antics of the other cast members. 

Also performing fabulously is another Toby’s veteran David James.  It’s one thing to commend him for his role in this production as Historian (Narrator).  But he is also tasked with five other roles with my favorite being Prince Herbert.  You see, Prince Herbert, much to the chagrin of his father, played wonderfully by Nick Lehan, does not want to marry the girl his father had arranged for, mainly because he is, well, gay.
The always campy Mr. James played Prince Herbert to the hilt as he did at the beginning of the show when he played Not Dead Fred.  His Prince Herbert’s back-to-back numbers “”Where Are You?” and “Here Are You!” are fun.  The production number that follows, “His Name is Lancelot,” with the ensemble attired in flamboyant garb, is one of the highlights of this show.

Photo by Kirstine Christiansen
Other cast members performed extremely well—most playing multiple roles—making this production so well-rounded.  David Jennings played Sir Lancelot splendidly as well as the hilarious French Taunter during a particularly funny scene.
Darren McDonnell played Sir Robin with flair especially during the side-splitting number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” as well as “I’m Not Dead Yet.”  Nick Lehan turned in an excellent performance as Sir Dennis Galahad delivering one funny line after another, and as Prince Herbert’s overbearing father who had to come to grips that his son is gay in a riotous scene. 

Jeffrey Shankle’s primary character, Patsy, dutifully follows King Arthur around as his servant banging two coconuts shells together simulating horse’s hooves as King Arthur “rides” before him.  He excelled in “I’m All Alone” as a counterpoint to Munsey’s King Arthur.  Notables in the production also include Shawn Kettering, Heather Beck, Jay Garrick and Jimmy Mavrikes and the other members of a very energetic and talented ensemble.
Director Mark Minnick, who also serves as choreographer, put his dancers through the paces, and they excelled in several numbers especially “Knights of the Round Table” with much of the cast and ensemble participating.  As precise as the dancers were, the influence of a zany Marx Brothers movie seeped in making it a classic visual experience.

David Hopkins’ simple yet functional set consisted of brick castle walls around the perimeter of the theater.  Stage entrances are used proficiently to keep the action sustained and balconies are in place for various scenes. Props were a key element in this production that included such items as a pull wagon, a oversized wooden rabbit, fake human limbs, barnyard animals, candles that effectively simulated burning and lots more.
The costume team coordinated by Lawrence B. Munsey and Marianne VanStee outfitted the cast in a dazzling array of medieval chain mail costumes originally designed by Tim Hatley and other attire that ranged from French maid costumes to a “very gay” Broadway production number apparel to a sparkling Cher gown (Bob Mackie would approve) to Laker Girl Cheerleading outfits to a woman clad in just underwear.  Yet, the period costumes worn by King Arthur and his Knights as well as the ensemble are simply outstanding with their detail and authenticity.

Lighting designer Colleen M. Foley makes effective use of color lights and sudden illumination to augment the action.  Sound designer Drew Dedrick also does a nice job of creating echoes when authoritative pronouncements are made (such as when God is talking) and clasps of thunder on occasion..  All the performers are effectively mic’d so that the lyrics and dialogue are clearly audible.
Spamalot is classic slapstick comedy with an extraordinary cast and technical crew that is ably directed by Mr. Minnick.  There is no better way to kick the winter doldrums than with this totally enjoyable, fun journey to find that elusive Holy Grail.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.
Spamalot runs through March 23 at the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  For more information and to purchase tickets, call 410-730-8311 or online.


1 comment:

Joel Markowitz said...

I agree with you totally Steve! Here's Amanda's review on DCMetroTheaterArts.

You can see Steve's review and other local reviews of this show and others in 'Other Reviews.'