2013-11-21 / On the Town
Songs help tell the story in ‘Spamalot’
Conejo Players Theatre
The Conejo Players Theatre gave its opening night audience the full Monty (Python, that is), in “Spamalot,” an uproarious attack on sanity that is one of the funniest and most expertly presented shows in recent memory.
“Spamalot,” which made its debut on Broadway in 2005, is one of that rare breed: a motion picture successfully turned into a totally satisfying stage musical.
In many ways, the stage version improves on the film because of the outrageous songs written by John Du Prez and Pythonite Eric Idle.
The songs are so polished they sound like they came from a production of “Forbidden Broadway,” barbed parodies of formulaic Broadway numbers (“The Song That Goes Like This”) that are often self-consciously satirical (“You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews”) but mostly just silly.
The amazing thing about the songs is that they aren’t just diversions; they are actually integrated into the story.
The wisp of the story, King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail, doesn’t get in the way of the goofiness, and the plot, such as it is, keeps the flavor of the Python troupe’s humor. Where else but in a Python production would you have a schottische where dance partners slap each other across the face with a dead fish?
Satirical jabs are taken at such iconic musicals as “Man of La Mancha,” “West Side Story,” “Singing in the Rain” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
In the role of King Arthur, the closest thing to a straight man as this nutty show has, Dave Ulmer is charismatic as well as funny as he attempts to “bring chivalry to a rude and churlish time.” Christopher Mahr shows impeccable comedic timing as Arthur’s trusted servant, Patsy, who participates in most of the musical numbers.
Daniel Hersh, whom we recently saw in Conejo Players’ “Forever Plaid” as Jinx, plays Sir Robin, a collector of plague victims (“I’m Not Dead Yet”) who becomes one of the first of Arthur’s knights. Hersh is terrific in his minstrel-cavorting song, “Brave Sir Robin.”
Skylar Adams is Sir Lancelot, who excels in the “Knights of the Round Table” production number and especially in “His Name Is Lancelot,” in which he outs himself as a closet gay, along with the stereotypically mincing Prince Herbert (Patrick Crowder), who probably didn’t have a closet.
Molly Stillens makes a welcome debut in her first Conejo Players role as the Lady of the Lake, displaying a glorious soprano voice and excellent comedic talent in the “The Diva’s Lament.” John David Wallis (Sir Galahad) is a familiar face on Ventura County stages who is at his best in comedic roles such as Goran in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Co-producers Priscilla Losey and Kevin Pugh have done an amazing job putting all of this lunacy together in a production that attracted raucous cheers on opening night. Director Rick Steinberg serves double duty by assisting Elena Mills and John Holroyd in the innovative set design.
Rachael Pugh, in her first effort as musical director, made sure all of the singers are in sync with the recorded soundtrack (including meticulously timed sound effects). Beth Glasner combined deft borrowing with ingenious craftsmanship in coming up with the many costumes required (such as a knight with removable limbs). Miriam Durrie-Kirsch created the sparkling choreography.
Conejo Players’ “Spamalot” is the Holy Grail of comedies.
“Monty Python’s Spamalot” plays through Dec. 14 at the Conejo Players Theatre. For tickets, visit www.conejoplayers.org.