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Saturday, January 22, 2022

There Are Lots and Lots to Enjoy with Toby's 'Spamalot'

"Spamalot."  That’s what I usually say when I open my email.

But Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia is presenting another Spamalot: Monty Python’s Spamalot billed as “a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture.”

It takes you back to medieval times. But it probably wasn’t quite like the way it was portrayed at Toby’s.  In the musical theatre’s version of the 1975 film Monty Python’s Spamalot (with a number of differences from the film), Helen Hayes Award-winning director Mark Minnick, who also choreographed the production, and the cast and crew offer up a zany, classic slapstick production with laughs at every turn. Just be ready for “alms for the poor” later on in the show.

Tony and Grammy Award winner Eric Idle penned the book and lyrics and also composed the wonderful 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.

The superbly costumed performers at Toby’s seem to have as much fun as the patrons, and why not? With impeccable staging and direction, the madness of Monty Python is executed to near perfection. Spamalot’s goofy, irreverent, no-holds barred plot, 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 led the proficient six-piece orchestra on the night this performance was reviewed. Nathan Scavilla takes the baton in other performances. They support the talented vocalists as they hit the bull’s eye with each number while being the brunt of a few jokes by the actors as part of a bit.    

The show is amazing especially since Jordan Stocksdale, who plays the central character King Arthur, signed on to the production merely two days earlier to replace an injured actor.  Mr. Stocksdale never missed a beat in what I consider a seamless and near flawless performance.

While he had played the role in the past, Mr. Stocksdale had to deal with the challenges of performing in the round, and he clearly was a quick learner.  Much credit should go to Director Minnick and the other cast members for helping to bring him up to speed in such a short timeframe.

The experienced Mr. Stocksdale successfully handled the role with commanding stage presence showcasing a strapping baritone voice and fine acting skills, which include well-timed and delivered comedic lines when called upon. How he managed to keep a straight face throughout the non-stop insanity of the plot and the antics of the other cast members is beyond me. It takes discipline, and Mr. Stocksdale obviously has that.

His vocal talents are showcased in “King Arthur’s Song,” “Come With Me” in a duet with Janine Sunday who plays The Lady of the Lake, “Always Look On the Bright Side Of Life,” a glorious dance number with his Knights, and “I’m Alone.”

The aforementioned Janine Sunday as the Lady of The Lake, a multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee, is the only female lead in the cast. She demonstrates her excellent vocal talents with clarity and strength.  Ms. Sunday 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 the icing on the cake. 

Another standout is the two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient David James, who is reprising his extraordinary tour de force from eight years ago at Toby’s. The versatile Mr. James begins the show as Historian (Narrator).  But then he tackles five other roles throughout the production with my favorite being Prince Herbert.  Prince Herbert, much to the chagrin of his overbearing and music-hating father, played wonderfully by Justin Calhoun, does not want to marry the girl his father had arranged for, mainly because he is gay.

"...a zany, classic slapstick production with laughs at every turn."

Mr. James plays Prince Herbert with flair as he did at the beginning of the show when he played the role of Not Dead Fred.  His Prince Herbert’s back-to-back numbers “Where Are You?” and “Here Are You!” are fun.  The madcap disco production number that follows, “His Name is Lancelot,” with the ensemble attired in flamboyant garb, is a show highlight.

Justin Calhoun delivers one of the best comic moments of the show when in true Abbott and Costello mode attempts to instruct two guards to prevent his son from leaving the castle. I’m still laughing at that scene. Mr. Calhoun also turns in an excellent performance as Sir Dennis Galahad delivering one funny line after another.

Other cast members perform extremely well—most playing multiple roles—making this production as well-rounded as the knights’ table.  Adam Grabau plays Sir Lancelot splendidly as well as the hilarious French Taunter during a particularly hilarious scene.

Jeffrey Shankle plays Sir Robin with finesse especially during the side-splitting number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” in addition to the comical “I’m Not Dead Yet.”    

Quadry Brown, another eleventh hour replacement, does a commendable job. He portrays Patsy, who dutifully follows King Arthur around as his servant banging two coconuts shells together simulating horse’s hooves as King Arthur “rides” before him.  Mr. Brown excels in “I’m All Alone” as a counterpoint to Stocksdale’s King Arthur and appears in the memorable group number “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.”  Again, kudos goes to Mr. Brown for stepping up when needed.

David James as Not Dead Fred

Notables in the production are Shawn Kettering, Ariel Messecca, Brandon Bedore, MaryKate Brouillet, Shane Lowry, and the show’s writer and lyricist Eric Idle playing the Voice of God, Who wouldn’t want that role appearing in their bio?          

The other members of a very energetic and talented ensemble include Amanda Kaplan, Alexis Krey, Patricia “Pep” Targete and Brook Urquhart.

Director and Choreographer Mark Minnick put the dancers through the paces, and they excel in several numbers especially in the zany “Knights of the Round Table” with much of the cast and ensemble participating.  “Find Your Grail” is another hopping production number.

David Hopkins’ simple yet functional set consisted of brick castle walls around the perimeter of the theater and side projection screens that were employed very effectively.  Stage entrances are used well to keep the action sustained and balconies are in place for various scenes. 

Props and large set pieces are a key element in this production that include such items as a pull wagon, a oversized wooden rabbit, fake human limbs, barnyard animals, candles and lots more.

The costume team coordinated by Marianne VanStee and Janine Sunday 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 “very gay” Broadway production number apparel to a sparkling gown. Yet, the period costumes worn by King Arthur and his Knights as well as the ensemble are simply jaw-dropping with their detail and authenticity.

Lighting designer Lynn Joslin makes effective use of color lights and sudden illumination to augment the action.  Sound designer Mark Smedley also does a nice job of creating echoes when authoritative pronouncements are made (such as when God is talking) or when there is a clap of thunder.  All the performers are effectively mic’d so that the lyrics and dialogue are clearly audible.

So, find your own grail. Visit Camelot and see among others Sir Lancelot. Eat a lot, drink a lot, tap your feet a lot, and be prepared to laugh a lot. Watch the actors sing a lot, dance a lot, prance a lot, and joke a lot. They lose their limbs a lot and come back from the dead a lot. They talk about Broadway a lot, Jews a lot, gays a lot, and even poke fun at France a lot.

Come see Monty Python's Spamalot. There’s a lot to enjoy and you will enjoy it a lot.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.

Spamalot runs through March 20 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office 410-730-8311 or visiting here.

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

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