Monty Python's Spamalot -- Theater Review

"Monty Python's Spamalot" kicks off Ahmanson Theatre's new season with a fresh-scrubbed, aggressively scatological and yet family-appropriate adaptation -- there's not much real anarchy -- of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

It's got its classic sketches down to a T: The "Knights of Ni!" are an awesome lot, and the taunting French soldiers are a gas. And it's all thrown at the audience with a relentless, good-natured attitude that makes the two hours pass quickly with plenty of laughs.

Director Mike Nichols and his crew even find time to incorporate topical material. There's a cheer-eliciting parody of the Laker Girls. They approach the finish line with a round of Sarah Palin jokes (which bring the evening's biggest laughs). It's all thoroughly professional if somewhat industrial, as if it had been stamped out from a template.

Eric Idle's book features a rousing score, with references to old movies, classical music and pop; there even are a few genuinely memorable tunes such as "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and "The Song That Goes Like This." The whimsical abandon of Casey Nicholaw's choreography drives the entertainment and the charming and athletic corps de ballet along at a terrific clip.

Within the heart of each of the remarkable group of knights and louts who make up the cast beats the soul of a rollicking, witty clown. John O'Hurley's irresistibly Sean Connery bit as King Arthur dominates the stage the moment he strides forward, knits his brow or smiles with a roguish grin. And when he rolls out his magnificent voice, everyone stops to listens.

Merle Dandridge as the multipurpose heroine is decked out in a succession of dazzling gowns eclipsed in brilliance only by the big arias she's called on to sing. Dandridge does things with her voice that are usually only done in bed; her coloratura runs and sudden changes of register excite the senses. The audience always wanted more.

To match the vocal splendor, the high-tech set is bold and infinitely flexible, the costumes are cuddly and colorful. The dozen or so hardworking musicians in the pit play beautifully, whether they are coaxing sentiment out of the score or banging out some thunder and drums.

Venue: Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles (Through Sept. 6)
Cast: John O'Hurley, Merle Dandridge, Rick Holmes, James Beaman, Jeff Dumas, Ben Davis
Book-lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez, Eric Idle
Director: Mike Nichols
Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Scenic/costume designer: Tim Hatley
Musical direction: Ben Whiteley
Lighting designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners
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