When we talk about the cultural icons of comedy, one of the first names on every list has to be Monty Python. First Aired by the BBC in 1969 as “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and helmed by the six original members, their unique blend of surreal, button-pushing, straight-faced, slap-stick has become a comedic genre unto itself.
This summer, the Geneva Theatre Guild takes a stab at the Python legacy with its production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” onstage at the Smith Opera House July 11-14. Directed by longtime Guild member Steve Duprey, this show embraces with both hands the silly, spastic fun of the Python spirit to create a show no fan will want to miss.
Premiering on Broadway in 2005, Spamalot is a musical adaptation of the 1975 first feature film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” With book and lyrics by original Python member Eric Idle, this cult classic pits the Python’s antics against the stoic tradition of Arthurian lore. However, this is no simple copy-paste remount of the film, but rather a comedic send-up to many of the Python’s greatest hits. Be it small moments clipped from their original sketch comedy or little gems pulled from their more controversial films like “Life of Brian,” there are tons of little gems for hardcore fans to enjoy, yet any newcomer can enjoy a taste of the wild humor that made the Monty Python team the comedic icons they are today.
This production is a massive undertaking and ruthlessly demanding of every single ensemble member. To this end, the cast of Spamalot rises to the occasion splendidly. With countless quick changes and rapid scene shifts, it is a lot of fun to see how the show (and the cast) keep up with the snappy, stream-of-consciousness-style of storytelling without the luxury of the cinematic jump-cuts utilized on screen. Arguably, some of the best (and most iconic) moments of the show belong to the ensemble, whether it is the brutal taunting of the French guard or enthusiastic Laker Girls, this cast makes every moment count. Vocally, Kyle Knapton (King Arthur) and Jennifer Walczak (Lady of the Lake) are fantastic, and while the venue’s acoustics can sometimes muddy the sound, there is clearly not a weak voice in the cast.
It is the Knights of the Round Table, however, that truly steal the show. Kiefer Schenk as Sir Robin is an unmistakable highlight, with his comedic timing and wildly fun physical antics culminating in his hilariously spicy show stopper “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” Sir Galahad (Timothy Caughlin) and Sir Bedevere (Adam Urbanic) capture the Python sensibilities to a T, whether they’re arguing the sensibility of the commute or plotting a strategic invasion via “Trojan Rabbit.” Brandon Wyand as the traditionally gallant and brave, (if somewhat dimwitted) Sir Lancelot strikes the right note that makes the big reveal in “His Name is Lancelot” as fun as it is glamorous.
When it comes to the look of the show, there is a lot to admire. For hardcore Python fans, the principle costumes are everything you could ask for and then some, perfectly capturing the look of the original film and transferring it to stage. Bright colors, plenty of magical onstage costume moments, and a creative flare as detailed as anything one would expect to see on Broadway. Unfortunately, with such a high bar, some of the ensemble attire can look a little rushed by comparison, with an odd costume here and there sticking out and feeling a bit unfinished.
The set design, while simple, is effective, and has a rich texture and execution reminiscent of the old-school Broadway scenic artistry which, sadly, seems to be a rare treat these days. This does provide a bit of a challenge for the projections, which can feel a bit flat at times, though that can be quickly forgiven when you recognize some of Terry Gilliam’s signature animation in the mix. Overall the sets does a great deal of heavy lifting, keeping the play nimble and the focus on the performers. The lights provide a perfect complement to the sets, which is no small feat given the need to keep both the projection and the actors visible at the same time. Finally the orchestra, led by Christine Sauter, is as much a character in the show as any performer onstage, and the rich full sound fills out the live theater experience.
This is a production that has all the hallmarks of a team that loves both the source material and the theater craft, with parts of the show spilling out beyond the stage and ready to engage with the audience the moment you first step foot in the theater (pro tip: you don’t want to be late to this show!) Overall this self-aware, self-deferential gem is a fun show for fans and first-time Python audiences alike. Clocking in at two hours and 15 minutes Spamalot is a loving send up, not just to the original “Holy Grail” film, but to all the antics that made the original men of Python legends of the comedy sketch genre.
Monty Python’s Spamalot runs from July 11-14 at the Smith Opera House. Tickets are available at the door or online genevatheatreguild.org.