Thursday, 15 May 2014

 Spamalot is idiotic feel-good song-&-dance  

Quicky prologue & overview : Popular web-poet C.L. Thornton reminds us in "A Short History of One's Life" :

Life is always fatal.
It begins pre-natal
and continues undiminished
until finished.

Undiminished, that is, only if one is capable of spontaneous silliness on occasion. How else to offset the cynicism brought about by current phenomena such as social media infestation, "reality t.v." or the mass kidnapping of hundreds of teen girls in the name of God. Yes, being able to LOFAO occasionally without booze or drugs or tickle-torture is a salubrious yoga pose we need to slide into more often. And Monty Python co-founder Eric Idle created the barmy & daft musical Spamalot for precisely that purpose.

Co-written with composer and partner John Du Prez, Spamalot started out as a musical stage version of the Python crew's first full-length film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). The movie's purpose was to satirize English royalty / Camelot myths, organized religion, and middle class / sensible conduct codes with over-the-top silly playfulness. Can Black Death corpses be fun? What about gleefully hacking an enemy's arms and legs off? Or a knight executing a bride's family and wedding party? Fun? You bet. The stage-play knock-off Spam hams it up further with some hilarious swipes at Broadway middlebrow musicals that take the world by storm and whole industries are spawned from.  Folks fork over countless dozens of ducats to stand in line for them and buy the T-shirt, CD, DVD and such. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera is perhaps the prime example here.

There is no narrative or dramatic arc in Spam, even less than in the movie Grail. Just a series of comic sketches that are loosely strung together telling a tall tale of King Arthur, his rag-tag clutch of Round Table Knights, orders from the Almighty to find-&-fetch the Holy Grail, and a host of madcap encounters along the way. Giants, tricksters, one exquisitely sardonic French soldier plus a jeezly-sharp-fanged-carnivorous white rabbit (like none Gracie Slick could ever imagine) all stand between this gaggle of goofs and their cherished chalice. And all of the carrying-on is smothered in irreverent and silly song, dance, kick-lines, tap, plus a passel of jolly good chases. 

WYSIWYG :  The movie was mostly a backdrop for the trademark absurd and slightly insane Python banter. Its characters to a person reveal a sublime awareness how ridiculous all of their shenanigans are. In the 30-year-later Spamalot, meanwhile, dialogue is often somewhat lost amidst all the "irreverent and silly song, dance, kick-lines, tap, plus a passel of jolly good chases" just noted. But that observation is not criticism. Just a fact. And, according to some viewers overheard at half-time at the packed Stanley house opening night, that makes Spam a whole heckuvalot more accessible to them than Grail ever was.

The best original bits are retained, thank goodness. The coconut shells clapped together for hoofbeats while the actors mime their imaginary steeds. The effect now, as before, is hilarious each second -- it never grows stale. And there's a glitzy overlay of Vegas and Camelot that is priceless : the castles don neon roof-lines; the ensemble kick-line is bling'd out richly; there's a chorus (Laker girls) whose antics are straight out of Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri's Saturday Night Live iconic Spartan cheer squad routines.

Messrs. Idle and Du Prez obviously wanted to skewer Broadway musical theatre : snide reference to ALW; take-offs on Fiddler On The Roof and Streisand in Yentl; a song "You Won't Succeed On Broadway" without any Jews; the spoof "The Song That Goes Like This" -- a drawn-out ballad mid-show that is reprised ad nauseam. But the Vegas scene also gets jibed. The Celine Dion parody in silver-sequins was spot on as was the old Stardust-like marquee that descends from the desert heavens.

Then there's the schmaltz. Idle and Du Prez cannibalize Python's Life of Brian for a remount of "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" that Arthur's sherpa, the eponymous Patsy, croons him with in Act 2 and the Company closes the curtain with. In Brian it was sheer satire : Brian is condemned to a long and painful death and is "serenaded" with the song to lift his spirits. In Spam the irony gets lost in all the funnery. Irony resurfaces, however, when Arthur moans "I'm All Alone" to Patsy who's been there all along and arches an eyebrow repeatedly at his clueless master. "Because I'm working class I'm just the horse's ass!"

Cleverest sequence of all was Lancelot's coming out to the nearly-betrothed Prince Herbert who loves Rufus Wainwright-y lugubrious music. His bullying father positively hates the stuff and repeatedly orders the orchestra to "Stop playing!" The colourful gay spangles of the men's dance troupe when celebrating ol' Lance having joined their ranks, replete with a Village People "YMCA" riff as a rainbow shimmery chorus line, was simply a sight to behold. "Lancelot's in tight pants alot who likes to dance alot..."

Production values : To this viewer the primary take-aways most folks will remember from director Dean Paul Gibson's show will be the ever-so-clever castle and Vegas sets by designer Marshall McMahen that serve as great backdrops for Rebekka Sorensen-Kjelstrup's riot of colour and texture and pizzazz in the ensemble's various dance routine costumes, particularly. Together they're a delicious eyeful. But choreographer Lisa Stevens' work is but a step-ball-change away from stealing top honours as well, with lots of kick and spunk and pirouettes and tap and twirl to delight eyes and ears both. 

As Sir Robin and the French Taunter, both, Josh Epstein gets highest huzzahs and bravos for his breathless and artful night. Jonathan Winsby as Gallahad was inspired in his eager bravado and ironic social commentary both. As Prince Herbert and Not Dead Fred, Scott Perrie tore into his roles -- as laughably infectious as a group of stoners lying head-to-tummy playing Ha! Ashley O'Connell as Galahad's mother then shrub-monger was a nifty piece of work. These were the stand-outs. But full-mark efforts by the rest of the company too, no question, who scampered and sang and giggled themselves all across the Stanley stage with enthusiasm and wonderful endeavour. 

Two minor hiccups : In absolutely every depiction I have ever seen in drawing, paint, sculpture and film, Arthur's famed sword Excalibur is h-u-g-e -- a wondrously long and wide implement of domination that invites endless Freudian and patriarchal comparison. Here the sword is smaller even than the Black Knight's, more a long knife than The Sword of the Ages. Howcum?

French Taunter needs to retard his delivery a bit so the audience gets all his wonderful original idiotic metaphors that are so pure-Pythonesque. While the penis-helmet-rubs and horking at Arthur were great sight gags, the genius writing of Idle in this schtick needs to be heard without straining to be fully appreciated. (See Favourite Quotes below for a close-approximation.)

Who gonna like : This show pulses with nonsense, verve and vigour that might, just might, meet Artistic Director Bill Millerd's prediction during his Intro on opening night that Spamalot "will become the stage hit of the summer" in Vancouver in 2014. It's riotous, inane, and serves no useful purpose other than to deliver laugh-a-minute asininity by a highly energized pack of performers.

Favourite quotes :

Dennis Gallahad : What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior!
Arthur : Well, I am king!
Dennis : Oh king, eh, very nice. And how d'you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By 'anging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society...
[Moments later Arthur explains about the Lady of the Lake handing him the sword Excalibur, which prompted this exchange]
Dennis : Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur : Be quiet!
Dennis : Well, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
Arthur : Shut up!
Dennis : I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!
Arthur : Shut up, will you. Shut up!

*  *  *  *  *

God : Arthur! Arthur, King of the Britons! Oh, don't grovel! One thing I can't stand it's people groveling.
Arthur : Sorry.
God : And don't apologize. Every time I try to talk to someone it's 'sorry this' and 'forgive me that' and 'I'm not worthy'... and stop looking up my skirt, I'm God you tit, Jesus!

*  *  *  *  *

French guard (at castle) : You don't frighten us, English pig-dogs. Go and boil your bottom, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called Arthur King, you and all your silly English k-nnnnniggets. Thppppppt! Thppt! Thppt!
Gallahad : What a strange person.
Arthur : Now look here, my good man--
French guard : I don't want talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries! Monsieur Arthur King you have the brain of a duck, you know, you son of a window-dresser.  I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second hand electric donkey-bottom biters.

*  *  *  *  *

Brother : And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, 'O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.' And the Lord did grin, and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats and large chu--
Arthur : Skip a bit, Brother.  [Brother skips in place.]

*  *  *  *  *

Arthur : Where are we going to find a shrubbery?
Patsy : Maybe we can build one out of cats.
Arthur : Arggh, where are we going to find the cats?


No comments:

Post a Comment