By PAM HARBAUGH
The Henegar Center steps decidedly onto the bright side of life with its laugh-a-minute production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”
Monty Python-er Eric Idle created “Spamalot.” He wrote the book, the lyrics and, along with John Dupre, the music. However, there are a host of credits in small print speaking to others who contributed to music and lyrics for various songs.
This is Monty Python’s Flying Circus through and through, a satisfying confection of silliness covered with a nutty topping. Based on the 1975 movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” it revolves around a comic King Arthur’s nonsensical romp throughout the world in search of the sacred chalice. Said romp is made by horseback, but without benefit of an actual horse. Instead, King Arthur’s servant claps together two halves of a coconut shell to create the clip clop sound.
There are the Knights of Ni who demand a shrubbery before the King and his rag-tag band of knights are allowed to pass; a trio of French Taunters who use their own flatulence to threaten the royal group; a blood thirsty bunny rabbit; and, yes, the plague, which manages to draw a number of laughs.
Directed by Hank Rion, the show squeezes an abundance of humor out of the script and the characters. Of course, he can’t do that without his splendid cast who have infectious fun with their characters.
For sure, the audience is primed for the Monty Python gags. All King Arthur (a delightful Glen Krasny) needs to do to get a huge laugh is enter with Patsy, his loyal servant (an always funny Jarrett Poore) clomping those coconut halves. The same can be said of the French Taunter (the versatile, witty Pete Jacobsen): Just mention in that syruppy French accent what he wants to do in the general direction of the English and the audience roars. So, too, the monks who hit themselves in the head with their illustrated manuscripts, and Dennis’ Mother (a bearded Robert McGinty) who speaks in a gruff falsetto as if she’s about to whip up some yummy Spam, Spam and Spam.
It all draws laughs because that’s what the audience expects. This show attracts those of the Monty Python body and it becomes, for us a theatrical communion. We know what’s coming, and we secretly invoke the litany along with the actors.
But the wild card here is Christine Manning Brandt who, as the Lady of the Lake, nearly steals the show. Despite an aggravating microphone that threatened to derail her opening night performance, Ms. Brandt shone like a trooper and delivered with sly humor one power number after the other. Ms. Brandt, obviously frustrated at the crackle her microphone was making, kept moving her hair away from the microphone in obvious hopes that would solve the problem. It didn’t. I was expecting any moment for her to yank the damn thing off her head, toss it to the stage and belt out her songs, unplugged.
While some of the first act big production numbers lacked focus thanks to a hodgepodge of visuals, there were some very satisfying musical numbers in the second act. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was sweetly delivered by Mr. Poore. As Sir Robin, Adam Lucker was very funny in “Brave Sir Robin” and especially so in the over the top “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.”
Choreographer Amanda Cheyenne Manis brings fresh, lively dance to the stage throughout, but her work especially shines in “His Name is Lancelot,” a disco number with men in short shorts. She takes chances and they pay off.
Add to this congratulations the strong pit orchestra, led by conductor Sue Diebel; and to costume designer Shannon Reppert, who has turned out an immense array of strong looks.
But the Henegar still needs to better equipment for its audio and lighting systems. David McQuillen Robertson’s lighting design is simply too dark. It seems to suffer from a lack of spotlights. On opening night, too many characters were not lighted. Especially egregious was the scene with the Black Knight, which was done in the dark recesses of stage left. It looked as if the production teams was trying to hide something, which is too bad because the payoff gag draws a deserved laugh. Even though this show banks on silliness, a theme still runs through it — “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” That theme opens the second act and it is what the audience leaves humming. So, for both thematic reasons and the basic need to see what’s happening, the stage needs to be brighter.
And, yes, the follow spots need to be Johnny-on-the spot exact and the hanging units need to fly out more efficiently. The first unit that flew out went with jerks and squeaking sounds, which seemed like an intentional gag, but it wasn’t funny the second time.
These nagging details aside, the audience (including yours truly) laughed throughout. Indeed, the Henegar delivers the all the expected goods and then some with its production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” You won’t see a more spirited, enthusiastic cast exuding more infectious fun anywhere.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Spamalot” runs through March 30 at the Henegar Center for the Arts, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. It performs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. $25 general, $23 seniors/military and $16 children under 16 years. Handling charges may apply. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.henegar.org.