"Spamalot" delivers silliness and hearty laughs

Aug 27, 2014

Corn Stock Theatre closes its summer season with a production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Marty Lynch has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.

School is back in session, but summer is still going strong at Corn Stock Theatre, where Monty Python’s Spamalot, the summer season’s last show opened last Friday.

The silliness of Monty Python always seems to bring out giddiness in crowds.  I never saw so many people chatting before a show as I did before this one.  Monty Python has been around longer than I have, and they practically taught me what silly was.  Take a natural setup, twist it on an absurd premise, and do everything you can to avoid taking the next logical step.  I have always known that this musical was not an exact replica of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I have avoided reading it or listening to it because I knew this was an ephemeral piece, even for theatre.  The title is Monty Python’s Spamalot, but it might as well be the Monty Python Experience.

The original film provides the plot, which takes its foundation from the legend of Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail.  This is not just a film with musical numbers tossed in -  the show starts with an irreverent take on cell phones and recording, then breaks into a song involving slapping one another with fish.  It’s the perfect exposition for this show.  You will find original work from Monty Python cast member Eric Idle, as well as new songs, new sketches, and classic sketches that are just worth keeping.  If you love Monty Python you will love this show, and if people have told you that you would like Monty Python, this is the place to start.  You will also find that the infamous ending to the film has now been transformed into an equally irreverent yet deeply satisfying conclusion.

Director Tim Wyman has plenty to do with the high quality of this production, and he is careful to point out that “the unsung heroes…are the technicians and designers.”  I agree, but his crowning achievement is in the casting.  Eric Ewan, as King Arthur, is a terrific stage actor with a wonderful presence.  Wyman surrounds him with a number of strong actors: Eddie Urish as Sir Robin, Tim Drew as Sir Lancelot, Lee Wenger as Sir Galahad, and Mark Bircher as Sir Bedevere.  Each individual gets a moment to shine through, whether it’s a scene or a song or a collection of gags.  Only one woman gets a title in this show, but Carmen McCarthy brings the Lady of the Lake to life with her incredible voice. 

Wyman also has a terrific ensemble keying the essential bit characters in every scene.  Their energy is unflagging even when the script begins to drag and pitch-perfect when the lines are in full silliness.  The script has uneven moments, but the new work seamlessly blends into the classic material.  Without the hard work and the incredible number of quick changes of over a dozen performers, the show could not have flown so high.  I have long been a champion of live orchestras over canned music, but I get why they had to do it this time.  Robin Hunt is probably the unsung heroine of the company, as she has taken familiar faces to new levels of dancing.  When a scene is cheesy or a prop malfunctions, it actually becomes a part of the gag, so even a scene gone wrong works well.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a scene has gone higgledy-piggledy by mistake or by careful planning, and what’s wrong with that?  When you see this show you will enjoy a hearty laugh; I guarantee it.

Spamalot runs through Saturday at the Corn Stock tent.  Tickets and information are available at 309-676-2196 or cornstocktheatre.com.