“Monty Python’s Spamalot” obviously owes its inspiration — for that matter, much of its dialogue and plot line — to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the cinematic spoof of the legend of King Arthur. But the style of playwright and lyricist Eric Idle’s comedy seems almost equal parts Mel Brooks.
Like so many of Brooks’ works, — “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” come to mind — the play that opened this weekend at Theatre Baton Rouge is filled with bawdy jokes and a wiseacre attitude that goes out of its way to make fun of comedy musicals, even while serving as an example of why we like them so much. The only thing that would make it more Brookslike is if Madeline Kahn were in the cast.
Marion Bienvenu, however, is a mighty good substitute.
This isn’t the curvy mezzo-soprano’s first time to shine on TBR’s main stage, but this is her most memorable performance, coming in a role that asks her to do a lot. She is sassy, winsome and vocally pleasing as The Lady of the Lake, the most significant female in a cast dominated by men. (That’s not quite how she describes it in one memorable scene, but no sense in spoiling it here.) Her role runs the gamut from demure to crass, from serious to sarcastic, and she does it all with confidence. She stands out despite being surrounded by a capable cast.
That begins with Albert Nolan in the lead role of King Arthur. Nolan is no stranger to TBR patrons, and what’s most impressive about this performance is how easy he makes it look. Cantering around the stage pretending to be riding a horse — with John Michael Moore following behind, tapping coconuts together to create the sound of hoofbeats — while his inept band of knights continually fail him, Nolan actually manages to carry it off with a measure of dignity. He delivers his lines with the appropriate twinkle in his eye, and his voice blends nicely with Bienvenu’s, especially in “The Song That Goes Like This.”
This year’s Beaux Arts Awards may need to create a new category for Moore — Best Unexpected Understudy? — who stepped in late when Michael Ruffin withdrew from the cast. His character does a lot more than tap coconuts, and Moore looked comfortable with his lines, facial expressions and dance movements. If the audience noticed a sudden gust of wind during Friday’s opening night, it likely was director Jenny Ballard’s deep sigh of relief.
The knights (Tyler Grezaffi as the not-so-brave Sir Robin, Lance Parker as Sir Lancelot, Curran Latas as Sir Galahad and Terry Byars as Sir Belvedere and two other roles) also are funny, and the over-the-top enthusiasm of Tony Collins is almost impossible not to watch in his dancing roles as a Laker girl.
The singing, directed by Richard Baker Jr., and choreography, directed by Natalie Elizabeth Baily Smith, were handled ably, and the set work and costumes were effective.
“Spamalot” isn’t for those offended by strong language and sexual innuendo. But when a Monty Python storyline intersects with Mel Brooks’ spirit, one should know what to expect.