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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Theatre review: Monty Python’s Spamalot is a worthy summer quest

The Arts Club Theatre Company’s season-closing musical has finally grown up with this year’s production, the ridiculously funny and irreverent Monty Python’s Spamalot, moving off Granville Island.  One supposes though that with an appearance by God himself it really did make sense to move the company’s annual silly summer songfest into the suitably majestic Stanley Theatre.

This summer’s guilty pleasure, make it your quest to see what all the silliness is about.  And who knows, between the laughs you just might get a little closer to your own holy grail.

But don’t be fooled, this new-found maturity comes only from a move to the larger theatre and doesn’t tinker with the success of the Arts Club’s tradition of offering some of summer’s biggest guilty pleasures in recent years.

Loosely based – or ‘lovingly ripped off’ as the advertising declares – on the 1975 motion picture Monty Python and The Holy Grail, this musical parody tells a similar story of King Arthur and his Knights sent on a holy quest to find the Holy Grail, a quest that gets easily side-tracked by all manner of Python silliness, which is a nice combination of the familiar and new. And it is in that mix where the real strength of Spamalot lies.

Fans of Monty Python and the Flying Circus will immediately recognize a number of that show’s characters and sketches, but for those with little or no knowledge of the British comedy troupe they are certainly never left behind.  Recognizing that not everyone will be familiar with Python, writer Eric Idle, himself an original member of the group, has wrapped Spamalot inside an equally satisfying (and equally silly) skewering of the musical theatre genre.

Helping to bring all that silliness (there is that word again) to life in this Arts Club production are some terrifically funny performances and, it is a musical after all, some correspondingly terrific voices.

Leading the way is the duo of David Marr as King Arthur and Andrew Cownden as his servant Patsy.  Marr is particularly funny as the sometimes oblivious leader of all the Britons, but it is when the two play off each other that the real magic happens.  A case in point is the very funny second act “I’m All Alone” where Cownden simply reacts to what Marr sings, with great results.

The quartet of Josh Epstein, Jay Hindle, Ashley O’Connell and Jonathan Winsby all get an opportunity to shine individually and collectively as the Knights of the Round Table.  Epstein’s turn as Sir Robin is particularly funny; with “Brave Sir Robin” one of the many highlights of the night, and one which also showcases the very strong ensemble that is part of this production.

Jonathan Winsby’s hilarious act one transformation from peasant Dennis to Sir Galahad is supported by Ashley O’Connell in a secondary role as his mother. But while O’Connell nails this smaller role, he was either not as prepared for his larger role of the Knight Bedevere, or director Dean Paul Gibson decided that Bedevere was to appear to always be a little lost; either way it was a distraction.

Jay Hindle gets an equally outrageous transformation as Sir Lancelot, with some of the best scenes when he is paired with Scott Perrie as Prince Herbert.  Perrie has one of the best voices of the night, surpassed only by Terra C MacLeod as the Lady of the Lake.  Not only can MacLeod sing, she nails her character with a wonderful sass and not only embraces the self-realization that permeates the show but absolutely wallows in it.  When MacLeod laments her lack of stage time in “Whatever Happened to My Part”, it is hard not to agree with her.

Director Dean Paul Gibson uses his ensemble to great advantage. One of the best to grace a Vancouver stage in recent memory, this team of Robert Allan, Michael Culp, Cameron Dunster, Alexandra MacLean, Makayla Moore, Alexander Nicoll, Alison Roberts and Liz Tookey, not only knows how to support but steps up when Gibson calls upon them.  Choreographer Lisa Stevens works them hard with great results.

In a recent interview, Gibson acknowledged the audience expectations for high production values in a show like Spamalot, and he and his team deliver.  Marshall McMahen’s set design combines homage to the Monty Python style with a similar tribute to old-school Vegas.

Perhaps most surprising though, under all the silliness of taunting French knights and pesky killer rabbits, there is a sweetness to Spamalot’s central theme of embarking on a personal quest to find what makes you truly happy.

This summer’s guilty pleasure, make it your quest to see what all the silliness is about.  And who knows, between the laughs you just might get a little closer to your own holy grail.

Monty Python’s Spamalot. Book and lyrics by Eric Idle.  Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle.  Directed by Dean Paul Gibson.  Musical direction by Ken Cormier.  Choreography by Lisa Stevens.  On stage at the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Stanley Theatre through June 29, 2014.  Visit for tickets and information.

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