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Monty Python’s Spamalot opened the 60th season of the California Musical Theater Music Circus on Friday. This, the 500th show produced by Music Circus, makes it is easy to see why the theater has not only survived but thrived for 60 years.
The book and lyrics by Eric Idle take the best of the popular Monty Python movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail to another level. While much of Spamalot spoofs the Broadway Musical genre, Idle has created a great Broadway Musical. The Music by John Du Prez and Idle is classic Broadway Musical style and in this case it is a very good thing.
Everything in this Music Circus production shines, starting with Glenn Casale’s direction. Much is made in theater-production circles about the difficulty of directing shows on Music Circus’ round stage. But Casale uses what others see as a problem to his advantage. His staging, more than any I have seen at Music Circus, expands the action to the perimeter (you can’t say "back" in this house) of the theater. The audience misses none of the action because of Casale’s long experience directing under the “tent.”
The show boasts a top-notch cast of Broadway actors, many of whom are veterans of other Spamalot productions.
Music Circus and Broadway veteran Gary Beach is a warm and accessible King Arthur. He personifies the benevolent monarch and marches forward in the face of all insults.
Ron Bohmer (Sir Dennis Galahad), John Scherer (Sir Robin), Mika Duncan (Sir Lancelot) and Ron Wisniski (Sir Bedevere) are the Knights of the Round Table. Each plays two to four other characters and the audience usually can't tell they are the same actors. Duncan is particularly funny as the French Taunter and a reluctantly outed Lancelot.
Lesli Margherita is the Lady of the Lake. In addition to being a great actor, she is the vocal standout in the show. She sounds beautiful, even while singing some of the silliest lyrics in a Broadway musical. What Ever Happened to My Part is an good example. Idle and Du Prez's song sounds like the parodies of well known musical numbers sung in cabaret reviews. Margherita’s lamenting the lack of attention paid to her character makes the audience laugh.
The cast is rounded out by Steven Strafford, a male vocal standout as Prince Herbert, and Andy Taylor as the put upon Patsy, servant to King Arthur, and as the “coconut horse.” One look from Taylor in I’m All Alone conveys Patsy’s humiliation.
The ensemble actors are notable, too, including Kurt Domoney, Michael Dotson, Alexa Glover, Jeff Kurh and John B. Williford who also appear in minor roles. Many are Music Circus veterans and great singers and dancers. Nikki Della Penta is the dance captain.
This production is Billy Sprague Jr.’s debut as a choreographer. The show is a restaging of Casey Nicholaw’s Broadway choreography. Sprague previously was a performer in numerous musical productions. Choreography for theater in the round requires major changes, especially at Music Circus, where the whole theater is the stage. Music Circus' stage, with its’ multiple risers, allowed for a Busby Berkeley "wedding-cake" effect.
Musical director Dennis Castellano and orchestra interpreted the score admirably. Naturally, in a Monty Python production, the musical director is also a character and incidental music adds to the humor.
Scenic designer Richard Bay and Pamila Z. Gray, lighting designer, joined forces to create the fantastical world of Spamalot. Lighting, especially important because of the sparse but effective scenery, created a sense of place in the tent. The duo's experience working in this venue showed.
Music Circus pulled out all the stops on wardrobe and costume designer Leon Wiebers was up to the task. The Knights of the Round Table wore three to five costumes changes alone. Other eye-catchers were that of the Knight of Ni, Prince Herbert’s father’s fur robes and the royal formal wear of the ensemble. The audience gasped when the Lady of the Lake’s costume changed from lake blue to wedding white.
Those interested in seeing the show should get tickets now. When word of mouth starts circulating, it probably will sell out. Comments on Facebook indicated that some of those at Friday’s show plan to see it again.
California Musical Theatre has done such a great job with the restaging of this show, I would not be surprised if they get the opportunity to do it again.
Photos: 1. Gary Beach (left) as King Arthur and Andy Taylor as Patsy 2. Lesli Margherita as the Lady of the Lake and Gary Beach as King Arthur 3. Mika Duncan as the French Taunter 4. Mika Duncan as the Knight of Ni 5. Ron Bohmer as Sir Galahad and Lesli Margherita as the Lady of the Lake 6. Gary Beach as King Arthur, John Scherer as Sir Robin and Andy Taylor as Patsy (under the cow) 7. Mika Duncan (left) as Sir Lancelot, Steven Strafford as Not Dead Fred and John Scherer as Sir Robin 8. John Scherer (standing center) as Sir Robin and his minstrels (left to right), Kurt Domoney, John B. Willingford and Steven Strafford 9. Left to right: Ron Bohmer, Andy Taylor, Gary Beach, Ron Wisniski and John Scherer 10. John Scherer as Sir Robin (left), Andy Taylor (center) as Patsy and Gary Beach as King Arthur
All photos by Charr Crail, courtesy California Musical Theatre