Haley Swindal as The Lady in the Lake in “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” at North Shore Music Theatre through Oct. 9. Photo by Steven Richard Photography
By Steve Krause
BEVERLY — If you aren’t familiar with the British comedy troupe Monty Python, and you’re planning to see the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “Spamalot,” you have to know one thing only: The play is silly. Very silly.
The word “silly” defines Monty Python. But don’t take that as a knock. If you go, you will laugh yourself silly.
The musical is derived from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which was the troupe’s sendup of “Camelot” (which, for the purposes of the musical, was turned into the Las Vegas of the Middle Ages, complete with dancing showgirls).
In a nutshell, King Arthur (Al Bundonis) and his trusty aide/steed Patsy (Brad Bradley, who can clap coconut shells together with the best of them) set about rounding up knights to help him on his thus-far undefined quest.
He finds Sir Galahad (J.D. Daw) working on a collective farm, one of many cultural anachronisms that spice up the production very humorously; and recruits Sir Robin (Beverly’s James Beaman) and Sir Lancelot (Jonathan Gregg) while they’re rounding up corpses from the latest plague.
When God commands Arthur to find the Holy Grail, Arthur is overjoyed to finally have a quest. The Lady of the Lake (Haley Swindal) gives Arthur and the boys a pep talk (“Find Your Grail”) and off they go. The misadventures that follow are all equally hilarious, and the music is both catchy and witty.
Featured cast members double- and sometimes triple-up, and often their secondary roles are more memorable than their primaries.
For example, Gregg steps out of his armor to portray the French fortress guard (“I am French … why do you think I have this outrageous accent?”) who taunts Arthur and the knights with the most bizarre insults imaginable (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries”). He earned his own ovation.
Gregg also is the “Knight of Ni,” a part that has tremendous latitude for improvisation. He dropped out of character, went into a wickedly funny Donald Trump rap, and received another long round of applause.
Daw has his time to shine, not only as Galahad but as the Black Knight who, while dueling with Arthur, gets his arms and legs hacked off and shrugs it off as “merely a flesh wound.”
Beaman has his best moments when his band of minstrels follows him around chronicling his acts of what can only be described as heroic cowardice, and when he sang his pointed song “You Can’t Succeed in Broadway.” If you know your Python, the song has Eric Idle written all over it.
The movie was funny enough. The musical is even better, because the songs really enhance the comedy. “I Am Not Dead Yet,” which sung by an unfortunate soul named Not Dead Fred (Sean Bell), who has been mistakenly rounded up by Lancelot and Robin during the plague cleanup. A cartload of corpses suddenly springs to life, singing and dancing.
Swindal’s “Whatever Happened to My Part,” with references to Patti LuPone’s routine of going around the corner to a London pub after her character “Fantine” dies in “Les Miserables,” is a riot. She’s very funny throughout the show. Naturally, she turns out to be Guinevere, and she and Arthur get married.
The show stopper, of course, is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which Arthur and Patsy sing in a dark and very expensive forest after having been accosted by the Knights who say Ni. It was originally written and performed in Python’s movie “Life of Brian,” and is actually much funnier in that movie. But it fits here, complete with tap-dancing knights spinning bright yellow umbrellas around, a la “Singing in the Rain.”
Python can be an acquired taste to people whose humor goes in different directions. To them, all I can say is give it a chance. If you have any kind of a funny bone, you’ll be in stitches by the time it’s over.
“Monty Python’s Spamalot” runs through Oct. 9.