Monday, May 22, 2023

REVIEW: Spamalot (Kennedy Center)

Review of the matinee performance on Sunday, May 21, 2023 at the Eisenhower Theater at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Starring Alex Brightman, James Monroe Iglehart, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Rob McClure, Matthew Saldivar, Jimmy Smagula, Michael Urie and Nik Walker. Book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III. Costume design by Jen Caprio. Lighting design by Cory Pattak. Sound design by Haley Parcher. Music direction by John Bell. Direction and choreography by Josh Rhodes. 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission. This production closed with this performance.

Grade: B

Have you ever been with a group of people and they all get a big laugh out of something, and you sit there completely clueless as to why they are howling with delight? That exact feeling came over me several times during the closing performance of Spamalot at the Kennedy Center. The audience, it seems was full of Monty Python fans, who screamed and cheered like the teen girls the night The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan every time a bit or beloved character appeared on stage. (There is, apparently, a significant overlap of Monty Python and Beetlejuice on Broadway fans.) It was like being at a rock concert. Their enthusiasm was infectious, because despite not knowing much of anything about it, I found myself caught up in the laughs and fun.

The book and lyics, by Pythoner Eric Idle are funny even if you go into the show unknowing. And there were plenty of "modern" updates - including a few meta moments, political jabs, and a particularly hilarious reference to George Santos. By and large, the book served as a set up to the musical numbers, while the lyrics were joke laden, and it was hard to end one giggle before launching into a full-on guffaw. Aside from "Always Look at the Bright Side of Life" - an ear worm of the highest order - the score is tuneful (music by Idle and John Du Prez), but definitely of the moment. I don't think I could hum a single other tune from the show if my life depended on it. 

Instead, I have very vivid memories of just about every number, thanks to the excellent visuals and dazzling choreography. Musical highlights included: "Knights of the Round Table," "I'm Not Dead Yet," "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," and "The Diva's Lament." Director-choreographer Josh Rhodes has created moment after moment of low brow and high style comedy that is as at home in the book scenes as it is in a multitude of endlessly clever and rousing production numbers. Part send-up, part loving tribute, his choreography consistently pays tribute to the golden age musical, while still feeling modern. Unlike a large portion of the second act which felt excessive and lagging, his routines are always exciting to watch. (To be honest, everything after "The Diva's Lament" up to the big finish of "The Holy Grail," felt almost unnecessary, and definitely slowed things down.)

The entire design team has created a full production here, more touring production than the original idea of a staged concert in the Broadway Center Stage series. With scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III, costume design by Jen Caprio, and lighting design by Cory Pattak, the show is a glowing example of creative design; for the price of a concert series, we got Broadway production values. The only real qualm I had production-wise is with the sound design by Haley Parcher; the sound effects were fine, but the general mix was frequently muddled, with the (great sounding) orchestra frequently overpowering the cast.

Speaking of the cast, they are a triumph from top to bottom. The ensemble, full of Broadway regulars, is aces. The ensemble of principal cast members is a marvel, from the chameleon-like Rob McClure as the narrator and a variety of hilarious side characters, to the cuddly tower of strength that is James Monroe Iglehart's King Arthur, we know instantly we are great hands. As another variety of characters, Alex Brightman is a hilarious scene-stealer as Sir Lancelot, the Knight of Ni and the Fench Taunter, while Nik Walker is bravado-filled sex on a stick as Sir Galahad. 

For me, Michael Urie as Sir Robin, etc. and Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake were the standouts among standouts. Urie is a riot of voices, mannerisms and physical comedy, each carefully doled out so as to maximize laughs without wearing out his welcome. Similarly, Kritzer gives a modulated performance, albeit as a study on vocal extremes. She takes on a smorgasbord of diva stylings from Idina Menzel's "Defying Gravity" riff to Cher to the growl-y vowels of any number pop divas. She's loving every minute of it, and the audience loves her for it right back. 

All of these people need to be back on Broadway. Stat.

Okay, so I didn't get some of the humor. And it got a little thin toward the end. And, it would have been maybe my fourth choice in the contest for Best Musical 2005. But Spamalot is solid entertainment. The Kennedy Center Broadway Center Stage series continues to delight.

📸: J. Kyler and J. Daniel

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