by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Many folks the world over are familiar with or at least have heard of that crazy troupe from across the pond called Monty Python and this company’s various films and television appearances. I was one of those folks who had heard tell about this zany group of people but… I admit it… I was not very familiar with their work and I do get funny looks for saying so! However, I did have the pleasure of seeing Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s latest offering, Monty Python’s Spamalot, with Music by John Du Prez and Lyrics & Book by Eric Idle, Direction by Laurie Starkey, Musical Direction by R. Christopher Rose, and Choreography by Amanda Dickson.
Having heard of Monty Python, I knew I was in for some comedy but I was glad I hadn’t seen any of the films because I was able to go in with no preconceived notions. I knew this piece was loosely based on the story of King Arthur and Camelot but that’s about as far as my knowledge went. Most of the jokes, although about 40 years old, were new to me and I enjoyed watching the audience burst into fits of laughter and often joined in.
From the moment I entered the theatre, I knew I was in for a treat from a technical standpoint and Scenic Designer Michael Rasinski took me back to the Middle Ages with his brilliant set. The focal point is a large two story castle right in the middle of the stage with two towers on either side. Along with smaller set pieces, the set came together very nicely, and scene changes were fluid and quick. The large set, which looked like a lot of thought and care was taken, helped the story along without overshadowing it. While renting sets and set pieces is easier and a route many larger theatres take, Rasinski designed and created a sensational, original set that deserves its own curtain call. I also have to mention the representation of “God” that was very clever and funny as the higher being is portrayed as to very, very large feet that fly in and , indeed, that might need a bit of room to store for the next time! The attention to detail is impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Rasinski in the future.
Adding to the production value is the well thought out costume plot by Costumer Mark Briner. This seems like a show with a million costumes, but Briner has brilliantly managed to make sure every piece of wardrobe is in place and each character is costumed appropriately whether it be the female ensemble in soldier uniforms or a male actor playing the mother of a knight, all the costumes are spot on and fitting for this madcap musical.
Speaking of music, Music Director R. Christopher Rose did a fine job of getting this large cast to perform these songs swimmingly. As a fan of “old-fashioned” Broadway, all the songs were definitely of the traditional “show tune” variety and the cast pulls them off nicely under the direction of Rose.
As far as community theatre goes, Choreographer Amanda Dickson knocks this production out of the park! Her choreography is not only appropriate for the piece, but very entertaining and well thought out. All of the larger numbers like “Knights of the Round Table” were tight and precise, which is what I look for in group dances, and the cast looks like their having a blast performing. “The Laker Girls” cheer routine was brilliant and the ensemble performed it flawlessly and the tap numbers (which make this old fashioned Broadway guy smile ear to ear) hit the nail on the head! Dickson seems to know her cast and choreographs accordingly, making the production look effortless.
Rounding out the production side of Month Python’s Spamalot, I mustn’t neglect Director Laurie Sentman Starkey and I have to say she does a bang up job with this production. She seems to have a complete grasp of the material and the comedy therein, which is no small feat and her vision is well thought out and it transferred flawlessly to the stage. Her casting choices were superb and under her guidance, this production is top notch.
Overall, the performance of Cockpit in Court’s Monty Python’s Spamalot was very enjoyable and every entertaining. Again, as a person who was only somewhat familiar with the popular Monty Python, I was certainly not disappointed, in general. I consider Monty Python’s Spamalot an ensemble piece and I adore ensemble pieces as it features each individual of a cast in one way or another. The female ensemble of this piece is absolutely on point with their dances and voices and they added a certain pizazz that I look for in this kind show. The male ensemble, though decent and giving a very respectable performance, doesn’t seem to have the energy that the female ensemble has in the group numbers. One mostly male ensemble group number (and eleven o’clock number), “His Name is Lancelot” stands out to me, but, I must say that, though it was a disco, upbeat song, the performance is a little flat and fell short of energizing the audience as it should have. Regardless, it is clear the entire ensemble, both female and male, gives 100% to their performance and carried the show along very nicely.
Sir Lancelot, one of the most famous Knights of the Round Table is portrayed by standout Steve Flickinger, who also takes on many other roles in this piece including a French Taunter, a Knight of Ni, and Tim the Enchanter, all of whom he portrays magnificently. Flickinger is a brilliant character actor with great comedic timing who’s quite a busy bee in this production but each of his characters is unique and stands on their own.
Another standout in this production is Jeff Burch, a Baltimore theatre native who takes on the role of Sir Robin, as well as Guard 1 and Brother Maynard. Burch does a splendid job as Sir Robin, the Knight of the Round Table who has, shall we say, theatrical proclivities and a habit of soiling himself at the most inopportune times. His number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” is one of those old fashioned numbers I’d mentioned before and Burch performs it flawlessly with high energy.
As the only female with a featured role, Eileen Keenan takes on the role of The Lady of the Lake, and being the only featured female among all these zany male characters can be quite challenging. However, Keenan tackles the role with no holds barred and carries her own with this crazy actors and has a big voice with an impressive belt, which is exactly what this role needs. There were times when Keenan seemed a little out of breath for her big diva-esque numbers and her pitch may have been a little off as was the case in her number “The Diva’s Lament” but, overall, she performed the role brilliantly and with a brassy confidence that is required for this challenging role.
David Jennings as Sir Gallahad, as well as taking on the roles of Herbert’s Father and The Black Knight is one of the highlights of this production. His comedic timing is spot on and he commands the stage whenever he steps on. He seems to understand the tongue and cheek comedy of this piece and though his performance is outstanding, he knows not to take himself too seriously as to not ruin the comedy of his characters. He exhibits this understanding in his duet with Eileen Keenan, “The Song That Goes Like This.” It’s a beautifully written song, but still comical, and can’t be taken too seriously and though the two perform the song beautifully, the comedy is still prominent and shines through. I look forward to seeing great things from Jennings in the future.
Another absolute highlight and standout in this production was Baltimore theatre veteran Gary Dieter who takes on the role of Patsy, King Arthur’s devoted and belittled manservant. There’s not much I can say about Deiter’s performance other that it was near perfection. He is certainly a triple threat. His acting and comedic time are superb as he also takes on a couple of other roles in the piece, his voice is big and confident, and his dancing is magnificent, especially his tap dancing skills which are hands down excellent. He takes the lead in the number “Always Look in the Bright Side of Life” arguably the most famous of the songs from this production, and his performance is impeccable in this production. He has a great command of the stage and is a pure joy to watch in this production.
Of course, Monty Python’s Spamalot couldn’t be without the character of King Arthur, who is portrayed by Phil Gallagher. It’s a fun-fact that Gallagher is actually from across the pond and his British accent is absolutely genuine. He’s a fine actor and seems to grasp understand the comedy of the piece but, according to his bio, this is his very first attempt at musical theater and… it shows. While he is up against power houses like Dieter and Jennings, his singing and dancing seem sub-par but he does hold his own and is very comfortable on the stage, which helps immensely. Though his performance is up to the level of some of his fellow actors, he keeps the character light and airy and he does have great comedic timing. He may not have experience with musical theatre, but his confidence shines through and his command of the stage is evident.
Rounding out the cast are Chip Meister, another Baltimore theatre regular, who takes the roles of Sir Bedevere, Dennis’ Mother, and Concorde, Stanton Zacker, as Not Dead Fred, and Sir Bors, and Austin Shields as Historian, Minstrel, and Herbert.
Meister pulls his characters off gloriously, especially as Dennis’ Mother, who he plays in bad drag, and has the audience in stitches, Zacker, as Not Dead Fred, participates in one of the most famous bits from Monty Python and takes the lead in the number “I Am Not Dead Yet,” in which he gives a wonderful performance, also leaving the audience in fits of laughter, and Shields, who opens the show as the Historian and sets the tone and pace, does a very nice job as the Minstrel and Herbert with his tenor voice and slim frame which both fit perfectly with the roles.
Final thought… Monty Python’s Spamalot is a perfect production for a larger community theatre and Cockpit in Court’s production is not to be missed this summer. Overall, it is a very enjoyable, funny, fast-paced show that is chock full of familiar jokes and bits but also has a fresh presentation for those who are not so familiar. I was unfamiliar with the show but I was certainly NOT disappointed. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to seeing the Monty Python films on which this show is based!
This is what I thought of this production of Spamalot.… what do you think?
Monty Python’s Spamalot will play through July 31, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm, and Thursday, July 28 at 8pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Community Center. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase the online.