It’s always nice to have a hit on your hands.
That’s what original Monty Python member Eric Idle discovered soon after the 2005 Broadway opening of his musical comedy “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
That also is what the majority of theater groups — professional and amateur — discover soon after the openings of their productions.
Elkhart Civic Theatre is no different. “Spamalot,” based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” opened Nov. 8 in the Bristol Opera House. Initially scheduled for seven performances, an eighth was added before opening and a ninth, immediately after.
There is no doubt that early response was from Python fans. The wildly off-center humor of the original six Pythons and their wacky adjunct players has a great appeal, especially to those who have followed the group since its inception in the mid 1970s. It can, however, touch the funny bone of anyone totally unaware of Monty Python.
“Spamalot” doesn’t waste a minute. The pre-show speech is the recorded voice of Python John Cleese who urges audience members to “let your cellphones and pagers ring willy-nilly.” The tone is set and goes onward and upward from there as the curtain opens to find villagers in Finland (?) dancing and singing “The (literally) Fisch Slapping Song.”
Jolted back to medieval England, the plot (???) follows King Arthur (Rick Nymeyer) and his faithful squire Patsy (John Shoup) on their quest to recruit knights for Arthur’s proposed round table.
Before they reach Camelot (by way of Las Vegas), Arthur has been joined by Sir Lancelot (Geoff Trowbridge), Sir Robin (Robert Windsor), Sir Galahad (Deron Bergstresser) and Sir Bedevere (Brent Graber) as well as a strange conglomeration of passers-by, friendly and not-so. Among the former is the Lady of the Lake (Adrienne Nesbitt), a diva for the Middle Ages.
The high-spirited ensemble numbers choreographed by Jackiejo Brewers and delivered enthusiastically by members of the Ladies and Knights Dance Ensembles, definitely are high spots in the show. The women become Laker Girls, Camelot Dancers (a la Vegas), Grail Girls and French Citizens. The men portray French Guards and Knights. All are Bodies, Villagers and anything else that springs up along the way to Camelot.
Zach Rivers becomes a quartet of characters — an Historian/Not Dead Fred (a plague victim who refuses to stay on the cart)/a Minstrel and Prince Herbert, who gives a new twist to the prisoner in the tower. In probably the only non-singing role, Tim Yoder earns non-stop laughter as characters well known to Python fans — the French Taunter, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter.
Opening night audience members could be heard humming (or singing along) with Patsy as he bolstered up the sagging spirits of the king with the show’s most familiar song “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life.” Bergstrasser and Nesbitt went on and on in “The Song That Goes Like This,” a tribute (?) to Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Windsor led the ensemble in the cautionary tale “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”
Under the direction of percussionist Mark Swendsen, the talented eight-member orchestra did an excellent job with the score by Idle and John Du Prez. It was a pleasure to listen to them, whether supporting the singers or instrumental only.
Shoup’s set design easily morphs into many locations including castles, a forest and a casino. Especially impressive was the giant Trojan Rabbit, not to be confused with the deadly Killer Rabbit which appeared later. Linda Wiesinger served as costume coordinator for the many outfits required, most of which were as period appropriate as possible. The animation and sound effects well integrated throughout the show are credited to Brian MacGowan and Gary Cobbum, with light design by Randy Zonker.
Under the direction of Penny Meyers and assistant director Annette Kaczanowski, “Spamalot” obviously is living up to the expectations of long-time Monty Python fans and making a lot of new fans all eager to “Find Your Grail.”
”MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT” plays through Nov. 24 in the Bristol Opera House, 210 E. Vistula Street. There are waiting lists for the sold out performances and may be a few seats left for the recently-added Nov. 22. For information, call 848-4116 or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org