Pinelands’ ‘Spamalot’ Will Make You Laugh a Lot!

Monty Python Rules Again
Mar 01, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Pinelands Regional Performing Arts Department will present “Spamalot,” the winner of the Best Musical Tony Award in 2005, at 7 p.m. on March 2, 3, 4, 9, 10 and 11 in the Pinelands Regional High School auditorium.

Tickets are $10 for students and seniors, $12 for adults and $20 for VIP seating. They may be purchased online at pinelandsthespians.org or at the door.

The show bills itself as “a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’”

Now, once upon a time successful Broadway shows, especially musicals, would frequently be made into movies. “West Side Story,” “Oliver!,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and any number of Rodgers and Hammerstein hits, just to name a few, went on to pack movie theaters. The strategy made sense. Everybody from mid-America couldn’t get to a New York theater; just about everybody could get into a movie theater.

Nowadays the situation has been reversed. It is more likely a movie, even animated features, will become a stage musical. Disney, with shows such as “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” is in large part responsible, but there have been plenty of others: “Hairspray,” “The Producers,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Grey Gardens,” adopted from, of all things, a documentary, and “Mary Poppins” – oops, Disney again.

That drives some theater critics into a state of despair almost as severe as that suffered by Democrats in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. Movie-based musicals, they’ll argue, simply play to the rubes, enticing them to visit New York to shell out their greenbacks, thus keeping Broadway afloat. It is unfair, they’ll say, to young playwrights and composers who never get a shot to present their original and contemporary works because musicals that are basically reruns of movies clog the Great White Way’s theaters. Folks are being fed a steady diet of popcorn instead of some meatier fare.

There is, however, a major difference between the old musical-first format and today’s add-some-songs-and-dances-to-a-movie template. In the Golden Age of Broadway, musicals were transposed to the screen in quick order, a matter of a couple of years unless contractual issues stood in the way (it took six years for “The Sound of Music” to make the move). The reverse turnaround time tends to be longer. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard,” for example, which hit Broadway in 1994, was based on the 1950 movie starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden.

So it is with “Spamalot.” The movie it is based on came out in 1975, so its metamorphosis took three decades – which means the musical introduced an entirely new generation to the joys of the raucous and offbeat Monty Python humor.

And “Spamalot” borrowed other bits of the Pythons besides “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Its very name comes from the 1970 Spam sketch on the British TV show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” One song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” was borrowed from the1979 film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

The musical leans on large chunks of “Holy Grail,” such as the killer rabbit; the Black Knight (Carl Olsen), who insists losing his arms and legs in a sword fight is nothing but a flesh wound; the taunting French; and the Knight of Ni (Shane Nourie). King Arthur (Christian DiFrancia) and his knights – Sir Robin (Tommy Allen), Sir Lancelot (Anthony Scarpone), Sir Galahad (Shane Nourie) and Sir Bedevere (Luke Mathis) – still ride imaginary horses around the countryside, with the sound of hoofs provided by Patsy (Dylan Jackson), Arthur’s coconut shell-clapping servant.

But what puts “Spamalot” over the top, in more ways than one, is Eric Idle’s book and lyrics. He has the Knight of Ni adding a new task for Arthur and Co. to perform in order to reach the Holy Grail. They must stage a Broadway musical!

That sets up what is perhaps the show’s greatest production number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” crisply sung by Allen’s Sir Robin:

In any great adventure

that you don’t want to lose

victory depends upon the people that

you choose.

So, listen, Arthur darling, closely to

this news:

We won’t succeed on Broadway

if you don’t have any Jews …

The new task also allows the Lady of the Lake (Sabrina Matarazzo) more stage time, getting to sing “The Diva’s Lament:”

What ever happened to my part?

It was exciting at the start.

Now we’re halfway through Act Two,

And I’ve had nothing yet to do …

Whatever happened to my show?

I was a hit, now I don’t know.

I’m with a bunch of British knights,

Prancing ’round in woolly tights.

Director Chuck Miller is going all out with “Spamalot.” There are production numbers stuffed with tap dancing knights and gay characters, led by the ultra-effeminate Prince Herbert (Liam McGettigan). There is flying scenery and characters. Miller even rented classic animation from the Pythons, to be shown on two projection screens. Most of all, there is a laugh a minute – nay, several laughs a minute.

How good is Pinelands’ “Spamalot”? Good enough to have this reporter getting online immediately after taking in a rough dress rehearsal to order some Monty Python DVDs!

“Spamalot” not only can draw new fans into the Monty Python universe, but can remind old fans just how much fun the troupe provided back in the early 1970s. Sigh!

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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