Requirements to enjoy ‘Spamalot’: a funny bone
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — Beware the Knights of Ni and that killer bunny rabbit, but sit back, if you can, and laugh your way through Piedmont Players’ production of “Spamalot.”
“Spamalot,” you say. Certainly. It’s the decidedly quirky musical version of the hysterically funny “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” first seen on movie screens in 1975. For Monty Python fans, it’s a lovely trip down memory lane, with cows flying over the ramparts and the French hurling insults at the British.
It seemed some in the opening night audience didn’t know Monty Python, but those who did could almost recite the lines and guffawed loudly, finishing up with rousing applause and a standing ovation.
The cast has gotten into the silly spirit of the thing. Veteran Kent Bernhardt is King Arthur, of course, and Darrell Brown his coconut-clacking servant, Patsy. Bernhardt can really sing, and Brown nails the English peasant style.
The surprise of the night is the Lady of the Lake, played by Catawba College graduate Brianna Smith. What a voice! What a great presence on stage. When she comes on in the second act to sing “The Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened to My Part?),” the audience realizes that it has been too long since she was in a scene.
The knights are a hysterical bunch, with Nick Culp as Sir Robin, who has a problem with his bowels; Daniel Breuer as Sir Lancelot, the pretty one; Greg Hensley as Sir Dennis Galahad; and Ed Whitney as Sir Bedevere. Of course, they all play other parts, too. Whitney is also Dennis’ mother, a lovely wench, and Concorde, Lancelot’s faithful second. Breuer has a bevy of roles, including the vicious French taunter, the tallest Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter. In each role, Breuer takes on a completely different character, and they’re all funny.
Josh Wainright, Piedmont’s marketing director, spends a lot of time on stage, first as the historian, then Not Dead Fred, a minstrel, a French Guard and the effeminate Prince Herbert, who loves Lancelot. Hensley also has a turn as Herbert’s father. These guys are the hardest working bunch on the stage. Wainright’s a good fit on stage — he might want to spend more time there than in his office.
An ensemble of versatile and talented dancers, peasants, guards and whatnot round out the cast. This group gets to have a lot of fun, plus multiple costume changes. You never know what they’ll do next.
Plot? Who needs a plot with all this singing and dancing? But there is one. Arthur is looking for knights and then he needs a quest. His friend the lake lady tells him about the Grail. Along the way, there’s great songs like “The Song That Goes Like This” and “Run Away!” In act two, as the search veers off a little, and there’s talk of putting on a Broadway play, but everyone knows ”You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” But you must remember to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
The great thing about “Spamalot” is there’s no hidden messages to worry about. It’s silly. The wooden rabbit is silly, the Black Knight is silly, even the shrubbery is silly. And it’s clever — watch out for puns and topical jokes. You can expect some salty language, too, but it’s used appropriately, if that makes sense. The insults thrown down from the French castle are nothing worse than kids might shout at each other, if they were creative. No F bombs, either.
Directed by Reid Leonard and Tod A. Kubo, the play’s set comes from Leonard, and the choreography from Kubo. Even the props are funny in this musical, and the costumes (Jim Beaudoin). It takes quite a crew to put it all together and keep it running.
The orchestra, hidden backstage, is conducted by Virgie Taylor, and Jenny Carroll, an excellent performer, is the vocal director.
It runs just more than two hours, with a 20-minute intermission, and the time flies by because the audience is always engaged, busy laughing or applauding. Great way to laugh an evening away. And another showcase of the talent of Monty Pythoners John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
“Spamalot,” underwritten by Bill and Shari Graham, continues tonight and Saturday and April 24-27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theater, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee this Sunday. For tickets, call 704-633-5471.