Another Trip to the Bright Side of Life

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Monty Python's Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)
Monty Python’s Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)


4 stars

At some point in this hilarious musical, the plot simply goes out the window and unbridled hilarity and bawdy humor takes over the Mercury Theater stage.

Eric Idle’s brilliant adaptation of his  popular film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which features an infectious score by both Idle and John DuPrez, won the coveted Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005.

The show first hit the boards in its Chicago Pre-Broadway preview. It went on to become a Big Apple and West End hit, as well as everywhere around the world.

The musical is an uproarious, irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend with nonstop nods to many classic comedy bits from the television show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Bizarre characters abound and eventually take over the story. There’s the quirky, easily-irritated King Arthur; his devoted, put upon squire, Patsy; all the famous Knights of the Round Table, including Lancelot, Galahad, Bedevere, Robin, and others.

There’s also the cantankerous Black Knight who stubbornly refuses to step aside despite being hacked to bits; the voluptuous pond-side prima donna, known as the Lady of the Lake accompanied by her scantily-clad Laker Girls;.

there’s the Killer Rabbit, a bloodthirsty bunny who attacks without warning; the Knights-Who-Say-Ni who demand a shrubbery and there are minstrels, showgirls and an army of flatulent and insulting Frenchmen.

Spamalot at Mercury Theater.
Spamalot at Mercury Theater.

Even God makes an appearance, commanding Arthur and his Knights to follow a quest in search of the Holy Grail.

Pulling out all the stops, artistic director L. Walter Stearns, his talented cast and his gifted creative team have mounted a superior production of this Award-winning musical that is highly entertaining, vocally and visually impressive and extremely  clever.

For audiences new to this saucy, sassy musical, Stearn’s production offers the best of what made this original Broadway show so popular while adding some unique touches of his own.

Glitzy, filled with spectacle, bawdy humor, bad puns and sight gags galore, this version of “the musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture will please both the most ardent Monty Python fans as well as anyone who’s never seen the film. There’s really something for everyone in this laugh-a-minute production.

Angie Weber Miller’s elaborate, yet cartoonish, scenic design is dominated by fortress towers, balconies and staircases. Her  proscenium is lit with dozens of lights creating an impressive Broadway look. There’s a wooden Trojan rabbit and a very expensive forest that make their way on and off the intimate stage.

Tim Hatley’s imaginative, colorful medieval-modern costume creations, crowned by Kevin Barthel’s highly-stylized hair and wigs, add so much to the look and humor of this production, lending inventive authenticity and sparkle to the show.

Shanna Vanderwerker’s spirited, superbly-executed choreography is infectious; and the entire production is, as always, smartly supported by Eugene Dizon’s magnificent musical direction and leadership of six-piece backstage orchestra, both compliment and drive this production.

Stearns has made great use of the Mercury stage, directing his large cast, many of whom play several different roles, over and around the multilevel set. He’s guided his talented cast through this musical farce, mastering the British humor while adding a few timely references. The philosophy behind his over-the-top direction seems to be to not leave any comical opportunity untapped.

As a leading man, Jonah D. Winston commands this production as a driven, yet somewhat vain and shortsighted King Arthur. With his rich baritone and affected portrayal, Winston (who voiced Audrey II in the recent Mercury Theater production) creates a very noble presence.

He’s wonderfully supported by Greg Foster, as his faithful sidekick, Patsy. A talented actor with sharp comic timing and a bright, clear tenor, Foster creates a winning combination of subservient sympathy and wry magnetism. He charms both King Arthur and the audience with his catchy, “Always Look on the BrightSide of Life,” a song that turns into an audience sing-along at the curtain call.

Spamalot at Mercury Theater
Spamalot at Mercury Theater

As the voluptuous Lady of the Lake, Meghan Murphy belts her heart out, wringing every ounce of sexuality and melodrama out of songs like “Find Your Grail,” “The Diva’s Lament” and, in her prima donna duet with Galahad, “The Song That Goes Like This.”

At times, Murphy humorously mimics the musical stylings of other artists, such as Taylor Swift and Britney Spears. David Sajewich is very funny and demonstrates his versatility as Dennis/Sir Galahad, as well as Herbert’s headstrong father and the indomitable Black Knight.

Golden-throated Karl Hamilton simply sparkles (literally) as the closeted Sir Lancelot but he’s even more hilarious as the taunting French guardsman, hurling insults and catapulting cows.

He even breaks up his cast mates, as well as the audience, with his gut-busting Knight of Ni. As he always does, Daniel Smeriglio struts his comic stuff here as Sir Bedevere and shines in the drag role of Dennis’ Mom.

And, Adam Ross Brody brings boyish charisma, mirth and earnest dedication to his portrayal of Sir Robin, particularly in his show stopping “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”

Then there’s Adam Fane, a likable young actor who practically steals the show playing at least half a dozen sidesplitting roles,  each of them with perfection.

Fane opens the show as the elderly and pompous Historian who serves throughout as narrator and our personal guide through Camelot. But then he really comes to life as the sickly peasant, Fred, with his hilarious rendition of “I Am Not Dead Yet,” enhanced by some limber, rubber-jointed choreography.

Later, he becomes a merry minstrel, a tap-dancing chorus boy and a flirtatious nun. But he’s especially funny as the dimwitted, effeminate Prince Herbert.

The entire ensemble, all of whom get to play multiple roles, exercise their comic chops, strong musical talent and versatile dancing ability to the max.

So search no further for the Holy Grail of musical comedies. It’s currently playing in a deliciously decadent production on Southport Avenue. A huge Chicago hit a few years ago during its out-of-town tryout, it later took Broadway and London by storm, earning an unprecedented 14 Tony nominations, and  ultimately winning the title of Best Musical.

Now returning in a much-welcome production at the Mercury Theater, this irreverent musical adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is as much of a crowd-pleaser as the original, and it’s more fun than, well, a bloodthirsty biting bunny or a catapulting cow.

DETAILS:  “Monty Python’s Spamalot is at Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, through Dec. 29, 2019. For tickets and other information call (773) 325-1700 or see Mercury Theater.

Colin Douglas

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