“Spamalot:” knights of hilarity at Farmers Alley
KALAMAZOO—The song most likely to be stuck in your head after seeing Monty Python’s Spamalot is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” borrowed from the classic Monty Python film Life of Brian. The utter absurdity of the song resonates with a wallop in the film because while singing the cheerful ditty, the men are nailed to crosses. In the musical adaptation at Farmers Alley Theatre, the knights of the round table tap dance light heartedly with yellow umbrellas while singing it.
Of course, its absurdity still rings true against the ever present backdrop of global, national, and personal crises. This is exactly the point. Life is tragic and absurd and sometimes you just need to laugh.
Farmers Alley’s production of Spamalot certainly incites laughter—almost nonstop laughter for about two and a half hours. Director and choreographer Stephen Brotebeck does a tremendous job translating this 2005 Tony award-winning Broadway smash hit for a dazzling regional production with an excellent ensemble supported by terrific technical elements.
In addition to borrowing from Life of Brian, the show is a parody of the Arthurian Legend largely adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail born of the brilliant revolutionary British sketch comedy troupe. In it, a slightly ditzy King Arthur with his sidekick, Patsy, gather a kooky cast of characters in their Knights of the Round Table and, at the urging of the Lady of the Lake, set off to find the Holy Grail.
Monty Python original member Eric Idle wrote the book and lyrics, and it’s an amalgamation of many of the troupe’s most memorable sketches, including the killer rabbit, the Knights who say “Ni,” Bring out Your Dead, and the Anglo-hating taunting Frenchman who offends by farting in one’s general direction.
It also has the addition of the Lady of the Lake’s “Laker Girls” who are, at turns, spectacular cheerleaders, can-can girls, and Vegas-style showgirls. “What happens in Camelot stays in Camelot,” as it’s transformed into the Vegas strip and the Knights of the Round Table become their own Rat Pack. And much like the film self-consciously critiqued the movie industry, Spamalot spoofs Broadway musical theatre with pot shots at Andrew Lloyd Webber and fun moments of appropriation of West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof among others.
The show is fast-paced, witty, and an enormous undertaking to get right. Farmers Alley put up their largest set to date with W. Douglas Blickle’s multi-storied stone castle with moveable staircases that creates space for everything from a Vegas show lit up with marquee lights (among other stellar effects by Jason Frink) to a “very expensive forest” to a Rapunzel-like rescue mission to a disco-inspired coming out party. Equally impressive are Sarah Maurer’s clever, bold, colorful, and spectacular costumes that allow actors to convincingly play many roles and across time periods. Garrett Gagnon’s sound effects are fantastic, and Kellee Love Haselton’s music direction as well as her excellent orchestra complete with horns and reeds make for a huge sound.
The ensemble is made up of marvelous singers and dancers, and together they work like a well-oiled machine. There’s not a single misstep taken here, and yet, among across-the-board excellence, there are still standout performances. Dirk Lumbard is a wonderfully regal and oblivious King Arthur, and Michael P. Martin as his sidekick, Patsy, is ever-responsive, wildly expressive, and does a mean imitation of a horse with the coconut shells hanging around his neck. Jamila Sabares-Klemm is a gorgeous Lady of the Lake. She has astounding range with her powerful voice showcased especially well in “The Song that Goes Like This,” an amazing duet with Stephen Anthony Grey as Galahad, and the pretty “Find Your Grail.” She’s a wonderful comedienne, too, and may be one of the finest divas to grace the Kalamazoo stage. Zachary Joel Smits’s eyebrows alone could get top billing here, but he is delightfully funny as Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, Knight of Ni, and Tim the Enchanter. His performances alone are worth the cost of admission.
However, this show is not about virtuoso performances. In fact, everything about this regional production works tightly together to make it seem like Broadway quality—except the intimate house and reasonable ticket prices. Easily worth it to take a couple hours to escape and look on the bright side of this ridiculous life.
Click here for show days, times and details.