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Wacky British humor dominates Beck Center’s ‘Spamalot’

Few theaters in our area are capable of producing an epic musical like Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” Fortunately, Lakewood’s Beck Center has tackled the production with the energetic zest that the show needs to succeed.

Another musical based on a film, “Spamalot” is Monty Python’s sendup of the overly romantic and, frankly, pretentious stage musical “Camelot,” which in turn is based on the King Arthur legends. Whew! Rest assured, even if you have never seen any of these incarnations of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, you will still laugh yourself silly at this show.

It’s the middle ages, in the place that has often been called England, and Arthur is on a quest. The Holy Grail is a chalice, and when he finds it he will be able to unite warring factions to bring peace, and maybe find true love as well. Dougfred Miller, a Beck mainstay, is the perfect King Arthur. He bellows through the show with perfect diction and has mastered the nonplussed look when insane, surreal things happen or are said. And they do happen right from the start.

Our “backstory” is delivered by a musty, dusty professor. Timothy Allen is the historian, and his opening hilarious delivery is like a British TV host on multiple drugs. The male actors in “Spamelot” play multiple roles – each one a delicious bit of nuttiness. They chant as monks, roar with idiotic abandon as knights, and poke fun at Broadway conventions as they sing and dance in a Broadway style while wearing armor. Get the picture?

Monty Python’s humor was rooted in the sensibilities of its founders. They wrote for themselves on TV and proved capable of sustaining a story as well as a six-minute comic sketch. “Spamalot” is a success because the material is largely unchanged from that of the creators, and the job of becoming “Python clones” is left to the cast. Eric Idle, one of the original Pythons, adapted the screenplay, writing the book and the lyrics for “Spamalot.” Rest assured, it is not long into the show when a leggy dancing can of Spam is part of the extravaganza.

Idle expanded the typical Python formula in which women frankly did not hold large roles. Jessica Cope is the mysterious Lady of the Lake. She enchants Arthur in “Come With Me” and sends him on his quest with “Find Your Grail.” In one of the production’s best moments, Cope returns in the second act, when there is no need for her to be there. She sings the diva’s lament, “What Happened to My Part?” A professional, Cope, like the rest of the cast, has perfect styling for the song, which releases some inner frustrations that a lot of performers feel.

Sir Lancelot is here, and Brian Altman boldly shows the character’s “softer” side. If you remember the movie, you will see the Knights who say “Ni,” dozens of fart jokes that somehow are always hilarious and never gross and the “very expensive forest” where a knight continues to challenge Arthur after losing all of his limbs. Animalwise, the show has the killer rabbit and cow from the sky.

Beck’s production is directed by Scott Spence, who expertly guided the cast in the Monty Python style. The continuing popularity of the troupe is a tribute to its completely defined presence. That it endures almost a half-century after its creations puts it firmly in comedy’s legacy. Spence is aided by Larry Goodpaster as music director and Martin Cespedes as choreographer. “Spamalot” runs at the Beck Center through Aug. 18. It is not to

be missed. The good-sized audience at the Sunday matinee I attended spanned all ages, and laughed throughout. It doesn’t get any better than this for a farce.

 

 

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