It’s been eight years since I saw this calculated madness in a gaudy Las Vegas production, and memory won’t let me accurately compare this latest revival. The cult Monte Python-infection of our Broadway musical comedy is certainly intact. But Vegas shows are all cut down in length [90 minutes, no intermissions] and expanded in size and glitz. Geva Theatre’s modest production is a little longer and has a smaller cast. But it has caught the craziness, hung on valiantly to the over-the-top style, and actually rented a whole set of costumes from the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts. And also, the show-off, zany dancing is choreographed by Lenny Daniel, who was one of the topnotch performers I saw in the Las Vegas version in 2007. So I guess it’s pretty much the real thing. And the audience didn’t stop laughing even when jumping up to yell and applaud. xxxxx
Spamalot references the Python’s routines plus moments from the Monte Python films – mostly the plot of “…the Holy Grail”. But it also is Eric Idle’s take on moving the undying silliness of the British show to brassy Broadway musical comedy. So we get songs about what our Broadway songs are like and struggles to be onstage enough to qualify as a “STAH”; and, of course, the need for Jews. Believe me, that last musical wisecrack is both too funny and too persuasive to be offensive.
Geva’s good-looking young cast is virtually uniformly talented and funny. Hunter Foster stars as King Arthur who clowns, sings, fights, dances, and leads most of the numbers, often accompanied by his adoring shorter, comic assistant Patsy. Patsy is played and dynamically sung by Foster’s actual wife, Jennifer Cody (left), a Rochester hometown scene-stealer. The sure-handed, gifted director, Melissa Rain Anderson, is also a Geva audience favorite as director-choreographer and singer-actress with her husband, Jim Poulos.
Poulos plays several singing and dancing roles, but is a show-stopper as Sir Robin whose bravery the Minstrels salute and who milks a lot of laughs from that song about Jews. Beautiful Ashley Dawn Mortensen really takes the stage as the Lady of the Lake but comes back and takes over hilariously in Act II with the showy Diva’s Lament (“Whatever Happened to My Part?”). Recreating and sending up some of the best remembered characters from the “Holy Grail” film, Mike DiSalvo, Brandon Andrus, and Michael Warrell clown, sing, and dance like the pros that they are. And the ensemble includes really gifted local college students.
Right: Jennifer Cody, Michael Warrell, Mike DiSalvo, Jim Poulos, Ashley Dawn Mortensen, Hunter Foster, Jacob Hoffman and Brandon Andrus, the cast of Geva Theatre’s ‘Spamalot.’ (Photo: PROVIDED BY GEVA)
Jacob Hoffman plays 5 varied roles: Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard, Prince Herbert, and Minstrel. The affected British Historian introduces both acts with background, explanations and prissy admonitions on how the audience should respond. We next see Hoffman as a supposedly dead corpse, who keeps popping up out of a pile of plague-ridden bodies and insists that he is not dead yet, even getting up and prancing about to prove it. Later he’s a hostile phony-French Guard, and then a delicate Prince Herbert who seems more a Princess looking for a husband. Hoffman remarkably seems a slight, pedantic comic as Historian, a lanky dancer as Not Dead Fred, an effeminate, dainty pretty boy as Prince Herbert, and a strong singer/dancer as Minstrel. He’s a talent to keep track of.
Left: King Arthur (Hunter Foster) (far right) and his Knights, from left, Jim Poulos, Mike DiSalvo, Brandon Andrus, Michael Warrell.
Geva’s version is lively and imaginative enough to seem quite handsome and festive, de-emphasizing its scaling down the size of the cast, sets and props from the more elaborate Broadway and Las Vegas productions. Melissa Rain Anderson’s bouncy direction and Lenny Daniel’s sharp choreography keep it moving briskly and performed with charm and solid skill. And Nolan Bonvouloir’s little orchestra really sounds quite strong and lively on the tuneful music.
I’m expecting the old warmed-over jokefest to pretty much sell out.
By Herbert Simpson, Contributing Writer
Title: Monte Python’s Spamalot (Total Rating: **** of 4)
Through October 11, 2015
Geva Theater Center – mainstage
75 Woodbury Boulevard
Director: Melissa Rain Anderson
Musical Director: Nolan Bonvouloir
Choreographer: Lenny Daniel
Author: Book & Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Cast: Brandon Andrus, Jessica Azenberg, Jennifer Cody, John Cummings, Mike DiSalvo, Nicole Eras, Hunter Foster, Andy Frank, Leah Hassett, Jacob Hoffman, Eric Idle [recorded], Ashley Dawn Mortensen, Shannon Mullen, Frankie Paparone, Adam Pellegrine, Jim Poulos, Jacob Stewart, Michael Warrell
Scenic Designer: James Morgan
Costume Designer: Susan Branch Towne
Lighting Designer: Brian J Lilienthal
Sound Designer: Ian Hildreth
Wig Designer: Bekah Carey