Sunday, September 19, 2021

Spamalot (Stars 2021)

Back when I was a teen, a friend of the family lent my mom a set of Monty Python VHS tapes. She was, shall we say, NOT impressed. So that was essentially my first introduction to Monty Python. Not that she let me WATCH them, but I at least knew what she thought. It wasn’t until I had moved out that a friend of the family (who my sister was dating at the time…) brought Monty Python and the Holy Grail over so my siblings and I could watch it. It was then that I both realized how hilarious British humor was, and also why my mother would never understand it. Some people get bawdy humor, and others...don’t. 

Later, our former pastor used to use Monty Python sketches in sermons, and I think only a few of us actually got it. And pretty much all of us who got it, ended up leaving the church in the wake of Trump and the swerve to the Fundamentalist side the church made at that time. Oh well, what might have been.

By now, our family banter is full of references to The Princess Bride, Pride and Prejudice, P. G. Wodehouse, Broadway musicals, and, of course, Monty Python. 

If we hadn’t already wanted to see this production, the fact that Ken Burdick and Kevin McDonald were in it was enough to make it mandatory. My older kids’ friend and classmate was also in the ensemble, and got to slap people with fishes, so that sold them on going. 

Spamalot is kinda of sorta of based on The Holy Grail, but also incorporates some other stuff from the Flying Circus, The Life of Brian, and general 1970s and 80s Broadway satire. So, you get the fish slapping dance, “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life,” and the Lady of the Lake as the quintessential Broadway diva with her torch ballads and dissatisfaction with being cut out of the second act in favor of these prancing knights. This was comic gold. 

The musical itself only dates to 2005, which surprised me. Somehow, I figured it was older. The script itself is credited to Eric Idle, with music by John Du Prez. 

I won’t bother to recount the plot, but do want to mention some fun moments, and the casting. It was both awkward and hilarious when Sir Robin tells Arthur that he can’t be in a Broadway musical, because, well, to have a successful musical, “you have to have Jews.” The parodies of Fiddler on the Roof that follower are pretty spot on, and truly, it is difficult to imagine the musical theater tradition - or, for that matter, the American classical music tradition - without the contributions of Jewish Americans. I mean, really. It would be just as unthinkable to imagine musical theater without LGBTQ artists. (And would Broadway even exist without camp? Really?) And that leads to another hilarious moment. Arthur is a bit dense, and has to have Patsy, his faithful (and unappreciated) servant point out that the Lady of the Lake has the hots for him. 

Arthur: “But I thought you were a fairy.”

Lady: “No, that’s Lancelot…” 

And yes, one of the jokes in the musical is that Lancelot, the hyper-masculine, violent, and not always the brightest, is secretly gay, although closeted and in denial, until the youth in distress lets him see who he is…

Actually, this isn’t entirely implausible. I mean, doesn’t Lancelot seem like he is overcompensating for...something? And in this production, those gold pants did rather work on him. 

I can't forget the song of Sir Robin, where his bravery is extolled, and the perils he will brave - and the bodily dismemberment that he will undergo - is explicitly set forth. Watching Kevin McDonald's face in this one is worth the price of admission.

So, casting. In a local production like this, you will always have a limited number of actors who are outstanding at acting, singing, and dancing. Others will be good at two out of three, and some will be good at one. Figuring out how to cast that is therefore, a challenge. In this case, that meant that the toughest roles were Arthur and Lancelot, requiring all three, and a handful of other roles that could go with a combination. 

 Ken Burdick as King Arthur

Arthur was, in the only possible casting, Ken Burdick, who is always a delight to watch in anything. He has a strong voice and gravitas in the straight-man role. And also Arthurian hair and beard. (Ken and I used to play in the Bakersfield College orchestra together many years ago, and he has been in stuff like Johann Strauss’ The Gypsy Baron and Gianni Schicchi on the classical side, our Bakersfield Symphony rock and roll concert - stuff from Led Zeppelin to Elton John - and a whole list of stage performances locally.) He’s a consummate professional and always a joy to watch. 

 John Spizer as Lancelot

John Spitzer was great as Lancelot. I mentioned him for his great work in Measure for Measure at BC, and Le Misanthrope at Shafter Ford Theater. He has fantastic projection, great moves, and a nice range of acting styles. It was good to see him in this one. 

 Kevin McDonald as Sir Robin

Kevin McDonald has long been one of my favorite local actors. I mean, You Can’t Take it With You, The 39 Steps, Crazy For You, A Christmas Carol, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder - another one with Ken Burdick, Einstein, and, of course, Twelfth Night. As the cowardly Sir Robin, he was hilarious, stealing scenes right and left. His dancing is so much fun because he is both good at it, and, in a certain way, goofy and awkward. In other words, exactly the way Sir Robin would dance. 

 Bethany Rowlee as the Lady of the Lake

Callout to Bethany Rowlee as the lady of the lake - another excellent voice who just killed those ballads. She’s another fixture of the local theater scene who can be counted on to be excellent in any role. She has been in several of the above-mentioned productions, including The 39 Steps. Those ballads, as my teens would say, absolutely slapped. We died laughing.  

Jesse Magdaleno as Patsy

 Zachary Gonzalez as Prince Herbert

Timothy Armijo as Sir Galahad

 Also kudos to Jesse Magdaleno as the long-suffering Patsy, Timothy Armijo as Sir Galahad, and Zachary Gonzalez as the dude in distress, Prince Herbert. I won’t name the ensemble individually, except for Callie, because she is my kids’ friend, has danced in Nutcracker for a number of the years I have played, and is an outstanding young lady. But ensemble, loved the dancing and singing and stuff. Lots of fun. Also, if you heard loud giggles from the back row, that was Lillian, my 10 year old, and she thought you were great. And some love for Perrin Swanson (no relation, but we’ll take him) who ran around all night doing tech stuff behind the scenes to make it all work. 

 It was a fun night, and it was so great to be back seeing local live theater. I appreciate all of what you local artists have done to keep the arts alive during difficult times and I want you to know that we missed seeing you in person and are glad to be back. I also appreciate that our arts community has been on the forefront of encouraging vaccines and masks and Covid safety. I realize this is a tough town for that, and many have experienced unnecessary unpleasantness from some. I want you to know that most of us appreciate the emphasis on safety, and we fully support mask and vaccination requirements to keep all of us safer and thus keep the lights on. Rock on. And we’ll be there cheering you on. 


1 comment:

  1. That sounds like so much fun! A friend's daughter was in a high school production of Spamalot a couple of years ago, before COVID. My friend was the costumer for the show. I lent her a tunic for one of the chorus members, so we went to see the play. They did pretty well for it being a high school which always has limited choices when it comes to actors.