The adaptation of the cult hit film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” features a king who opts for clanging coconuts rather than riding an actual horse, a knight whose desire to fight continues even when his limbs have been removed, and a killer rabbit who (spoiler alert) can be felled only by a holy hand grenade.
In the world of “Spamalot,” the most extreme form of torture is being taunted by Frenchmen.
But silly doesn’t have to mean dumb. One of the things that struck me seeing the joyous Indianapolis regional theater premiere of “Spamalot” at the Athenaeum (where it plays through June 29) is how smart the show actually is. What other musical earns laughs with jokes about class distinction, logical fallacies, and the relationship between man and God, all the while trusting that the audience is in on the jokes?
The story? King Arthur’s quest to round up knights for his round table (here, his “very, very, very, very, very round table”) is supplanted by another, divinely ordained quest—to find the Holy Grail. His efforts to achieve that lead to a series of trials—including the acquisition of “a shrubbery” and the complete destruction of the theatrical fourth wall between players and audience.
Purists may lament the ditching of the movie’s witch trial and Bridge of Death, but without these side trips the musical moves briskly. Weaving the rounding up of the knights into the memorable-but-not-plot-pushing early scenes of the movie helps considerably as well.
The addition of the Lady of the Lake character allows for some of the show’s musical high points, especially as powerfully and hilariously sung here by Claire Wilcher. (With Wilcher belting “The Diva’s Lament,” I felt for the first time that sound from the Athenaeum mainstage might bleed through the walls to the biergarten rather than vice versa.)
This “Spamalot” comes courtesy of producer/director Bob Harbin who, during previous summers, offered “Cabaret,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and others at the Athenaeum.
While those had their strengths, this is the most fully satisfying of his productions. Except for a wobbly castle, the show’s casual attitude never gives way to sloppiness. And it manages to stay professional without being overly polished. Credit Music Director Trevor Fanning, Choreographer Kenny Shepard and a well-mixed band for solid contributions. Costume Designer Jeff Farley and his crew clearly have been working since this time last year. One can only imagine the scene backstage.
Theatergoers here have come to expect professional, engaging work from Charles Goad (Arthur) and Paul Hansen (his underappreciated sidekick Patsy). But Harbin’s bench is deeper here than it has been in the past, with strong support mined from other companies, specifically Q Artistry Artistic Director Ben Asaykwee as the not-so-brave Sir Robin and EclecticPond’s Artistic Director Thomas Cardwell as Sir Lancelot (who, of course, likes to dance-a-lot).
And some sort of rising-to-the-occasion award should go to Pete Scharbrough as Sir Galahad. Usually in the background at Beef & Boards, Scharbrough holds his own in an in-your-face duet with Wilcher for “The Song that Goes Like This.”
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t note the contributions of Bin Faaarkrekkion, the Honni Obikkionen Singers, and the good people of Finland. (Don’t ask. Just read your program.)•
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