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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Spamalot
Mesa Encore Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Weir and Anything Goes


Graphic by Wade Moran
The hit 1975 movie Monty Python and The Holy Grail humorously told of King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail. Almost 30 years after the premiere of the film—which was written by the zany Monty Python comedy team that featured Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman—Idle created a musical version of the movie with John Du Prez called Spamalot. The title is a riff on the musical Camelot which was set in the same period as the film and also focused on King Arthur. Mesa Encore Theatre's production of this musical comedy provides an endless amount of silly fun with a cast and direction that expertly play up the show's comical moments.

The plot of the show is fairly basic. King Arthur forms the Knights of the Round Table and with Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and his trusty knave Patsy along for the ride, plus some assistance from the mysterious Lady of the Lake, they go on a search for the Holy Grail. The subtitle of the musical calls it "A new musical lovingly ripped off from the movie" and almost all of the wild characters and lines from the film remain. But the musical includes several new scenes and a few over the top production numbers as well. While a few of Idle's comic bits sputter and a couple of the songs are just average, most of the musical numbers are quite good, with some of the songs humorously spoofing long running hit shows like the Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof. The original production won the 2005 Tony and Drama Desk awards for Best Musical and ran on Broadway for just under four years.

Director Peter J. Hill has wisely kept the MET cast small, just like the Broadway production, with six of the main cast members playing multiple parts. The six actors make each role distinct from the others they play, and ensure the many comical moments their characters participate in land, and land exceptionally. As the hapless leader King Arthur, Bill Bennett is the virtual straight man for the zaniness that unfolds around him and Bennett is appropriately stoic and regal in the part. Lizz Reeves Fiddler holds her own with the male-dominated cast as the Lady in the Lake, the only main female character. She has a gutsy voice with a nice range and delivers her songs, in various musical styles, with aplomb.

Andy Newman's exceptionally clear voice excels on Patsy's songs and his frustrated and agitated facial expressions work well to display Patsy's irritation with the way Arthur treats him. Chris Fidler is superb as the sexually confused Lancelot and several other roles. He is exceptional in making them all unique and hilarious. Sky Donovan is funny as the self-absorbed Galahad; as the not exactly brave Robin, Michael Stewart is charming and sweet; and James Melita instills several roles, including Galahad's mother, with plenty of humor. Also, David Chorley is a hoot in a few small parts, including Prince Herbert, the damsel in distress who just happens to be a man. All six of these men display exceptional comedic timing while instilling the many characters they play with charm.

Director Hill moves the series of vignettes along at a fast pace, and ensures that Bryan Rosen's smart, cartoon-like set designs are incorporated into the hilarity. Lynzee Paul Foreman's choreography provides plenty of inspired lunacy throughout. Mickey Courtney's costumes are colorful, funny, and period appropriate and Debra Jo Davey's musical direction achieves warm harmonies from the cast and a lush sound from the twelve-piece orchestra.

Part of the charm of Spamalot is the opportunity to see the many comical bits from the film brought to life in a musical, so if you've never seen the movie, or haven't seen it in a while, I'd recommend watching it. However, even if you aren't familiar with the film, or at least Monty Python, the humor of the show will still resonate. With a gifted cast, fine creative elements, and direction that is proficient in making the comedy always hit its mark, MET's Spamalot is a charming, silly, and very funny production.

Monty Python's Spamalot runs at Mesa Encore Theatre through March 20th, 2016, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center at 1 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 644-6500 or at mesaencoretheatre.com.

Director: Peter J. Hill
Choreographer: Lynzee Paul Foreman
Musical Director: Debra Jo Davey
Producer: Pam Pershing
Scenic Design: Bryan Rosen
Sound Design: Eric Lambert
Lighting Design: Clare Burnett
Costume Design: Mickey Courtney
Props Design: Amanda Holt

Cast:
Arthur: Bill Bennett
Robin: Michael Stewart
Lancelot: Chris Fidler
Patsy: Andy Newman
Galahad: Sky Donovan
Bedevere: James Melita
Fred, Historian, Minstrel, et al: David Chorley
Lady Of The Lake: Lizz Reeves Fidler
Male Ensemble/Various Comedic Roles
Brian Hanna, Kerry Jordan, Ricco Machado-Torres, Dan Marburger & Tad Morgan Ensemble Women/Laker Girls/Various Comedic Roles: Lacey Dixon, Julia Jordan, Amber Moldrem, Corine Tachuk, Chelsea Umeda and Misty West


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