Conejo Players brightens up with Spamalot
By Jenny Lower 11/27/2013
Spamalot, the cheeky, irreverent stage adaptation of Monty Python’s Holy Grail, was practically born to be a musical. With just enough story to keep things together but unfocused enough to allow for zany digressions, Spamalot marries witty punch lines with Broadway spectacle. But a franchise as beloved as Monty Python isn’t to be undertaken lightly. With so many fans among us who can recite scenes line for line, adapting it successfully for community theater still remains a bit of a gamble — Conejo Players hits it out of the park.
Director Rick Steinberg has assembled a cast of principals who seem to have the comedy troupe’s wacky sensibility in their blood. The result is a production that overflows with so much enthusiasm, talent and comic timing, it’s a joy to watch.
The show threads together some of the most recognizable bits from Holy Grail, with the versatile core actors filling in many of the supporting roles. There are the knights who say “Ni,” the abusive French castle guards, the debate about the weight of a swallow transporting a coconut, the Trojan rabbit. Sprinkled throughout are Eric Idle’s original songs penned for the 2005 musical, along with a few borrowed from previous Monty Python efforts (“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”).
Much of the show’s success derives from the chemistry among its several leading men. Dave Ulmer manages to be smugly royal even in the least showy, straight-man role as Arthur, while Christopher Mahr steals their scenes together as the perpetually daft-faced human packhorse Patsy. John David Wallis is earnestly mulish as “Dennis” Galahad, insisting others use his Christian name, and Donn Robinson doubles as both Bedevere and a convincing Mother Galahad.
Daniel Jared Hersh makes a jaunty Robin, the effeminate warrior squirrelly about combat. As Lancelot and assorted minor characters, Skylar Adams has to pull off stilts, a French accent, his own song and a striptease, which he does with aplomb. And though the play is mostly about making the men look good, Molly Stillens does some great vocal and acting work as the Lady of the Lake-meets-diva.
Rachael Pugh provides the solid music direction, with top numbers that include “Find Your Grail,” “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” and “His Name Is Lancelot.” (In the latter, listen for Lancelot’s clever, scripted wink at Ventura County conservatism when he jokes that in “a thousand years,” gay marriage will still be controversial.) Miriam Durrie-Kirsch’s choreography lets her performers incorporate shenanigans and sight gags onstage under dance captain Julie Alice Auxier’s direction.
Designer Beth Glasner clothes both prince and pauper, executing some nifty costume effects when various characters have to lose limbs or stand 12 feet tall. Jana Giboney’s wigs turn out to be very much a part of the storytelling and characterization, right down to the pleasing complementarity of the fashion-conscious Robin’s red bob against a green tunic. And though the production team overdoes it at times with the fog effects, co-set designers John Holroyd and Elena Mills have created an impressive fortified façade that belches smoke, a Very Expensive Forest and a full-scale Trojan rabbit.
If you’re at all a fan of Monty Python, this excellent production is well worth your time. But if it’s not your thing, this high-energy cast would be the first to encourage you: Find your grail.
Spamalot, through Dec. 14, Conejo Players Theatre, 351 S. Moorpark Road., Thousand Oaks, 495-3715 or conejoplayers.org.