Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photo. Kichissipi Times  On the French Ramparts!

IT seems that the talents coming from the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society are particularly well suited to outrageous musical comedy because not since their side splitting production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers , have we seen such a perfectly orchestrated show. Artistic director Bob Lackey, musical director John Terry Duncan and their whole team have  done wonders with the show based on  Eric Idle’s book and the music by John Du Prez.  From the moment Thomas Franzky as the mission-driven King of the Britons appears on stage with his faithful, bumbling Patsy a very sympathetic Rejean Mayer (we can’t help but feel this is a Python twist on Don Quixote and his not always appreciated servant Panza – I’m not chopped liver he snorts which is the first hint of his ethnic background) Spamalot was an absolute delight from beginning to end. Adapted from the Monty Python motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, the story essentially involves King Arthur going out trying to recruit new knights for his Round table, as he begins his quest for the Holy Grail.

However, it quickly becomes a parody not only of the legends that define British culture but of the whole history of musical theatre, of contemporary British politics , economics, and all the traditional rivalry , between England and France that produces some of the best moments in the show. It’s done as a series of comic sketches in the style of the Monty Python original show, with music and dancing added as devastating tools of mockery and humour. British folk lore as well as recent events are torn apart in a rage of parody that hurtles us along at a furious pace. Nuns, monks the bubonic plague, dead (mad) cows come out of the foggy north, the dazzling Lady of the Lake are all transformed into the most hilarious number as gay Latin dancers buzz around Sir Lancelot putting his “manhood”  into question and fore grounding flamboyant sexual confusion  -  one of the important themes in this performance . All the myths of British culture are dealt a devastating blow. All the stereotypes of musical theatre are heightened, all the dreams of Broadway are blown up into wild moments of an ongoing party. The show incorporates musical quotations from all the most popular composers of the genre. Andrew Lloyd Weber especially is wrung through the Python wringer, Broadway style dancing girls burst out everywhere, especially where they don’t belong as Madame Galahad waddles around asking nice little old lady questions until her son Galahad is transformed into a most sexy knight who flips his coiffure back in a  campy  “voguing gesture” that says it all. The corpses remaining from the plague leap up and dance. Knights in armour are turned into mystical dancing Hassidim, while cocky Frenchmen on watch up on the ramparts of their fortress toss scatological insults and blow unearthly anal sounds through their vuvuzelas down at King Arthur and his loyal but awkward men in arms, waiting to talk to their leader. The confrontation between the French and the English is the funniest moment in the show and much of it was due to the scratchy French accent and highly melodramatic voice of an exceptionally brilliant comic performer Dennis Van Staalduinen, who tells the knights and their king where to get off, as the Brits plan a failed Trojan horse stunt. They  flee into the exotic “Sherwood “ forest.  Love takes over, as it does in Musical theatre, and all comes out in the wash. The Great God of Ni, (otherwise known as Tim) again the majestic voice of Mr. Van Staalduinen, as he roars his desires out to the trembling knights in the forest , amply supported by his clinging little sub creatures that lurk around the trees.  They meet up with the flesh eating rabbit, the Holy grenade, some zealous monks , the dancing ladies of the Lake , and a lot more. One skips from one wildly playful bit of silliness to the next and they all perform their characters with sighs, and gulps and strange breathing sounds , magnificent singing voices and perfect British accents and perfectly workable French accents .

Andrea Black as the Lady of the Lake becomes a strong voice that one associates with the best singers of musical theatre tradition and her passionate presence brought this production to a level that was unbeatable . The cry of the actress asking Whatever Happened to My Part’, as she wonders why the writers seem to have forgotten her in the show, even brings Pirandello into the theatrical mix.

It was all marvellously clever and the performers caught the naughty, corrosive, humour that has always defined Monty Python.

Traces of the  most important names in theatre, in choreography, in music and song, all find their way into the book or the music and we are kept guessing who will pop up next. 

I especially loved the way choreographer Christa Cullain whipped the whole group into a perfectly coordinated dancing machine that switched styles, and rhythms ultra-rapidly and yet with apparent ease, giving us the impression it was all just plain fun. I have never seen such dancing on the Orpheus stage where the choreography became the expression of a living character who added a strong dimension to the whole performance. Mme Cullain is a very special talent. Joy Lackey’s costumes always revealed a touch of nonsense that captured the spirit of the show. Jennifer Donnelly and Tony Walker created an appropriate set that worked as a marvellous caricature, an animated cartoon set and an ensemble of volumes that let them make the multiple changes rapidly and effectively that were almost unnoticeable.  The orchestra under the direction of conductor Terry Duncan, attacked the music with all the naughty humour that they could muster. The strange rantings, ravings and eery rumblings, blowings and smashings and war like sounds that echoed all through the night were the work of John Cybanski . The list of people who collaborated with this show is much too long to elaborate here but the whole company worked together in great harmony to produce an event they should all be proud of….It was an exquisite night. Run to see it if you can find a ticket.

Spamalot continues until March 16 at Centrepoint theatre (show time is 7h30) Single tickets are as high as 40.00$ rush seats are 11.25$ and it is worth every penny because you will never have this kind of experience watching a movie…