Spamalot is on a holy quest for laughs at the Aurora Fox
Bob Hoppe and Stephen Day in Spamalot.
Spamalot is a terrific musical, a hilarious romp through English myth and history — and a fine Aurora Fox production underlines its strengths. The fabled King Arthur sets forth accompanied by his faithful squire, Patsy, who serves as an overworked and underappreciated beast of burden. After a while, God himself appears — usually in the form of a huge foot descending from the heavens, but in this production as a talking wooden head — to instruct Arthur and his knights to take up the quest for the Holy Grail. There's a bit of arguing while the knights try to puzzle out what this grail actually is. "God the all-knowing almighty has misplaced a cup?" asks an incredulous knight.
Still, they start the quest and have many adventures along the way. The king encounters Dennis, aka Sir Galahad, an anarcho-syndicalist who scoffs when told that Arthur's kingship is based on a magical sword he received from the mystical Lady of the Lake: "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government," he says. "Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses." There's the customary sad maiden imprisoned in a tower by her cruel father, except in Spamalot the maiden's a he: a tender princeling who doesn't know he's gay — particularly since the word as we use it wouldn't have been known at the time — but is happy to find out. He's rescued by the bold Sir Lancelot. Given his name, you know Lancelot's a closet case, and he soon gets outed in tripping song and dance. The most terrifying enemy the knights face — as everyone who's seen the Monty Python film on which this musical is based surely remembers — is a fluffy white bunny that can rip people's limbs from their bodies. Throughout, the men ride invisible horses, and the clopping together of coconut halves to create the sound of trotting and galloping is a recurring joke, used in lots of different ways, most inventively to simulate the pounded-out rhythms of a tap dance.
In addition to spoofing the Arthurian legends, Spamalot makes fun of Broadway musicals — such as itself. Composers John Du Prez and Eric Idle know just what kinds of songs you're expecting — the pulsing, yearning love ballad; the inspirational, uplifting follow-your-dreams number; a lighthearted toe-tapper — and come up with samples of all of these and several more. The Lady of the Lake has a "Diva's Lament" worthy of Judy Garland or Patti LuPone. A corpse rises from the plague wagon for a lively number titled "He's Not Dead Yet." A song performed by green-clad minstrels in pointy-toed shoes praises "Brave Sir Robin" — who usually shits himself in the face of danger. Best of all is "You Won't Succeed on Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews," which begins like a Rex Harrison patter song from My Fair Lady and ends up a full-scale production number courtesy of Fiddler on the Roof. These songs are not only snort-liquid-through-your-nose funny, they're actually tuneful and musically sophisticated.
Piper Lindsay Arpan, who appeared in the Broadway production and recently directed Spamalot for Boulder's Dinner Theatre, has assembled a talented cast. The Lady of the Lake is a role that an actress can get her teeth into, and Sarah Rex does just that: shaking the poor thing like a terrier with a rat and making an outsized role even bigger. She's crazy funny, and she deploys a supple, powerful voice that can slide from a gentle coo to a roof-shaking belt in an instant. Spamalot is worth seeing for Rex alone, but she isn't alone. There's also Stephen Day, winner of a Best of Denver award this year for his role in A Christmas Carol, appearing in his first Fox show — a coup for the theater. His fine, strong voice and apparent dignity make poor King Arthur's stops, starts, missteps and frequent befuddlement doubly funny. Daniel Langhoff lends his admirable acting and singing chops to Sir Galahad, and Michael Bouchard's Robin is a mix of impish and wry, with spot-on comic timing. Kurt Brighton dons various enjoyable hats at various times, but he's most memorable when the strong-armed, violent Sir Lancelot finally reveals the tender butterfly within.
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