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Monty Python’s Spamalot — Media Theatre

Spamalot300Though director-choreographer Dann Dunn takes full advantage of all the jokes and silliness Eric Idle and his Monty Python cohorts built into their movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and the musical Idle spawned from it, “Spamalot,” his production of “Spamalot” at the Media Theatre exhilarates most and hits its highest marks when its able cast launches into good old song and dance.

       Dunn and company pay ample attention to the comedy inherent in Idle’s book and lyrics, but it is their surehanded vaudevillian way with a musical number that gives the Media production its wings.  No matter what the subject or how witty Idle chooses to be, it is the tried and true show business tradition of selling a song that entertains so much. Numbers led by Scott Langdon, Patrick Ludt, David Jack, and Ann Crumb are all performed to the hilt, with Dunn adding layers of choreography as each sequence proceeds. Python-style comedy is fine, but it is glossy professional savvy that gives this production its luster. You almost don’t care what anyone is singing about as long as the actors maintain their energy and matinee idol flair.

       “Spamalot” is a pastiche that uses the context of King Arthur — yes, the King Arthur of “Camelot” — venturing on his quest to find the Holy Grail as a reason to introduce material as wide-ranging  as Finns indulging in “fisch-schlapping” or Idle acknowledging how much Broadway’s existence depends on the patronage of Jewish audiences. Along the way, some songs relate to Medieval times, but as one character asks in that Monty Python way of making hay from literal answers to figurative questions, “Since we’re living in them, how do we know these are the Middle Ages?” Any subject is fair game for Idle and his composer, John DuPrez.

       Any material is a conquest for Dunn and his cast. “Spamalot’s” story, such as it is, gets fair due. Cows are catapulted, and mythical characters appear making awkward sounds and demanding shrubbery, but Python bits like having a French castle dweller taunt Arthur and his knights or having a warrior declare victory even though Arthur hacked off all of his limbs are amusing stops in between the powerhouse payoff that comes when basic, elemental entertainment takes over. This being Monty Python, the knights are often more hapless than brave or gallant, but that just sets up better tunes. It’s much more entertaining to hear the troops eschew battle and sing about running away, or listening to minstrels croon ironically about the cowardice of “Brave Sir Robin,” given to fouling his pants at the smallest hint of danger, than to hear songs of solidarity and good soldierly behavior (although Idle and DuPrez provide a couple of those as well).

         Dunn’s “Spamalot” is a true ensemble effort in which everyone is to be praised for his or her precision and ability to take center stage. The sharp cleanness of the production is impressive. Nothing is wasted or overdone. The cast has the timing of a drill team and the spirit of a merry band hellbent on providing a good time, but one that comes from the discipline of knowing how to let a number unfold.

       Scott Langdon, as Arthur, establishes the quality of the production from his first entrance, pretending to be on horseback while his aide de camp, Patsy, bangs coconut shells together to create the sound effect of galloping. (A vintage Python discussion by a pair of Medieval townspeople about how a coconut got to 10th century England before America or the South Seas were discovered is also quite amusing.)

       Langdon is upright and stolid as Arthur. True to his classical training, the actor speaks with the deep, sonorous tones of a Shakespearean hero. His bearing is regal. He is all you would want from a king, and he lends a tone of gravitas to his search for the Grail

      Langdon’s Arthur is so earnest and honorable, he serves as a contrast to the less noble knights that surround him. His stance also makes it funnier at times when Arthur is willing to compromise his principles to save his life or escape from an irritating situation.

      As Patsy, David Jack is the picture of control, keeping his counsel verbally  but telegraphing what he is thinking with his eyes and facial expressions. Jack makes neat work of “Spamalot’s” best known song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and is hilarious reacting to Arthur’s declaration, “I’m All Alone.”

      Patrick Ludt constantly gets sturdier and sturdier as a performer. Since working his way from Media choruses to complex lead roles, Ludt acquired assurance and is a consummate performer. He, as much as anyone, personifies the perfection of Dunn’s production, always standing out in a positive way during dance numbers and making the most of the songs in which  he takes the lead, “Brave Sir Robin” and “You Won’t  Succeed on Broadway” (unless you get some Jews!).

       Ann Crumb starred in “Master Class” at the Media. She seems to conduct one of her own every time she performs. Crumb’s voice is as thrilling . Cast as the diva Lady of the Lake, she can go from sotto voce to full-out belting with equal authority. More than that, Crumb is a nimble actress who (with Jay Pott) gleans every bit of parodic sarcasm from “The Song That Goes Like This,” a send-up of Lloyd Webber/Wildhorn style love songs and the style in which they’re usually presented, and ekes every ounce of sardonic venom from “The Diva’s Lament,” in which the Lady of the Lake, who doesn’t appear in the second act until it’s two-thirds spent, asks, “Whatever Happened to My Part?” and threatens to call her agent.

       No star has been mentioned yet for the Media production of Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” this spring. Norma Desmond is a part tailor-made for Crumb, a Lloyd Webber favorite. It would be a crime if she did not get to it, and we did not get to see her in it.

        Will Harrell is beautiful enough to be the vain Lancelot who reveals a little secret in Act Two. Harrell also aces some bit parts that could be annoying is less capable hands. Harrison Post is equally adorable as Prince Herbert, who doesn’t want to wed the royal bride his father has chosen for him, preferring to decorate his castle chamber in pink and wear wigs and frocks until he can find the prince he fancies.

       Tim Haney, usually found at the sound and light controls of Media productions, is an agile and funny Sir Bedevere. It’s good to see him frolicking. Jay Poff helps the sketch comedy get off to a good start as Sir Galahad, whose mother is dead set against his becoming a knight.

        Lance Kniskern’s set is both attractive and serviceable. Tom Fosnocht makes the band an integral part of the proceedings. Fosnocht’s ensembles sound better and better all of the time.

        “Monty Python’s Spamalot” runs through Sunday, November 3 at the Media Theatre, 104 E. State Street in Media, Pa. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $42 with discounts available for seniors and students. They can be ordered by calling 610-891-0100 or going online to http://www.mediatheatre.org.

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