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“Spamalot” dishes out the bright side of life

I’ve not been so entertained in a long, long time.

This show is fantastic. It is based on the British “Monty Python” franchise, a TV show that I never really liked very much, so I didn’t hold out much hope for this musical. In fact I almost didn’t go, given my negatively-held impression. That’s the problem with impressions. They’re so often wrong.

I found myself smiling in my seat during 90% of the show, and I’m not generally a big smiler. In fact, my face hurt when I left the theater (no lie!) I found the show to be brilliantly written, both in terms of script and music, and incredibly clever and witty. While I often found the Monty Python TV episodes and movies to be on the dumb side and never quite understood the appeal (Mr. Creosote excepted – this skit from “The Meaning of Life” made me laugh so hard when I first saw it that I feared I would injure myself. “Mint?”), this show is anything but stupid. Silly, yes, but in a very charming and entertaining way. You can’t help but smile.

I won’t spoil any of the puns or plot devices for you. Suffice it to say that it’s a really fun ride. The hapless King Arthur goes out in search of knights for his round table. We follow their (mis)adventures and encountered obstacles as they hunt for the Holy Grail, from killer bunny rabbits to taunting Frenchmen who spew vicious insults. There are elaborate and hilarious dance numbers about Jews, gays, and the Finnish (who else but Python would pick on the Finnish?). The show reminded me a bit of “Joseph and the Amazing Technocolor Dreamcoat,” another of my favorites, in the clever musical numbers, the showstopping-quality of the choreography, and the way it doesn’t take itself very seriously. Might this supplant Joesph in my heart?

The characters are all incredibly likable. The cast clearly relish their roles, and they are superb – comically, vocally and physically. Who would expect such outstanding singing and dancing in a show this silly? The colorful costumes and musical score are also top notch – it is non-stop eye and ear candy. No wonder this show won three Tony awards. I thought this cast sounded even better than the original Broadway cast. They sang and delivered their lines with more enthusiasm (I wish they’d make a recording!)

The musical numbers vary greatly in style. Most are very energetic, and borrow liberally from many sources: the native sounds of Finland, other Broadway shows, the Hava Nagila, the French National Anthem and from a Monty Python classic itself. That song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” is fairly well known since taking on a life of its own after its introduction at the surreal ending of Python’s “Life of Brian.” While sung there with a touch of farce and cynicism, it actually has an uplifting message (well, the first chorus anyway) and is sung by the whole audience at the end of the show, at the cast’s urging. This comes just after another heartwarming moment involving audience participation and the triumphant discovery of the Grail.

Spamalot paints a fun world that you long to be a part of. You don’t want it to end. The applause from the packed house at the Garde Arts Center in New London was frequent and exuberant, and deservedly so. A standing ovation was offered at the end, and, alas, the magic was over.* Ahh, Camelot – I mean Spamalot!

Show info at http://www.montypythonsspamalot.com

*The show is coming to the Shubert in New Haven from 12/29 – 1/02. What a great way to spend New Year’s! (I’m there. Anyone want to join me?)

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