In October 1989, six of the wackiest minds ever to join forces created a TV show for the BBC titled “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
To my knowledge, there never was an actual Monty Python, but the off-the-wall humor of its writer/performers (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle Terry Jones and Michael Palin) resulted in a form of comedy that continues to flourish more than 25 years later.
The TV show ran for 45 episodes which led to five motion pictures and several Python-like comedy groups. From one of the films, 1975’s “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” came the Broadway musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
With book and lyrics by Idle and music by Idle and and John Du Prez, “Spamalot” earned 14 Tony Award nominations and three wins, including Best Musical of 2005. In the years since then, Idle’s hilarious distortion of the Arthurian legend has played in 20 countries and on the stages of countless community theaters throughout this country.
Among these is the production that opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre. It is not necessary to be familiar with Python to get the humor. “Spamalot” is a farce which, as some may be aware, if my least favorite form of comedy.
Unless it is done well.
Doing it well requires knowing that precision is a necessity in making the seemingly shapeless physical humor more than just a bunch of bodies flailing around as plague victims or Laker Girls or Broadway tappers who (not intentionally) can’t tap or … you get the idea.
It’s attention to details. For example, in order to land the joke, the mourning monks should have been hitting themselves with their tablets (think that’s what they were carrying) in unison and not randomly. It’s making sure that guards absurdly arguing the merits of swallows as coconut-carriers are able to be seen (and heard) by all sections of the audience, ditto the French Taunter whose verbal abuse from high up on a castle wall defeats the cowering English knights.
Once again, the directionless acoustics of the auditorium made it difficult for anyone not sitting in the center section to comprehend most of the dialogue and a large portion of the lyrics.
“The Song That Goes Like This,” sung endlessly by Sir Galahad (Jeremy Weyer) and The Lady of the Lake (Allison Jean Jones), is a blatantly unmistakable homage (?) to Andrew Lloyd Webber, while Jones’ “Diva’s Lament” is more “pitchy” than funny and both are oversung.sbct.org.
There are some plusses here, although not nearly enough. Patsy, the keeper of the coconut hoofbeats and Arthur’s dogsbody, is played by William Heckaman who sings well and taps well and is in control of his character. The Black Knight is handily dismembered, the Knights Who Say Ni are reasonably annoying and the Killer Rabbit is deliciously bloody. These, however, are small islands of coherent humor in a flimsy sea.
Choreography is mostly non-existent and uncoordinated. The rear-screen projections are used well, making the graphics one of the major assets of this show.
The ”orchestra” is on a recorded track with which the singers — solo and ensemble — primarily keep track.
King Arthur (Mark Torma) and his knights (William Loring, Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, Weyer and Gary Oesch) have more than a dozen performances remaining in which to find their grail while continuing to look on the bright side of life.
“SPAMALOT” plays Wednesdays through Sundays through April 4 in SBCT’s Wilson Theatre. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or online at SBCT.ORG.