Hilarious “Spamalot” at The Encore (review)


When Spamalot opened on Broadway in 2005, it ushered in a new type of audience — Monty Python fans who were looking for a ready-made evening of laughs, and not so much musical theater. Based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” they got their money’s worth, crowds kept coming, and the show ran for years, playing especially well to male audiences, a rarity in musical theater. Its now a favorite of the local theater circuits where its raking in the same kinds of bucks, from high school, college, community, and regional theaters. It was no surprise that, seen at the final preview last night, the audience was the largest I’ve seen at an Encore preview night — and while all seemed delighted, a few seemed befuddled as well…what had they just seen?…and that goes hand in hand with one’s enjoyment-level of farce, slapstick, and broad British humor.  I loved the show. Granted, it is more enjoyable if you have seen the movie. Even more so if you have seen the movie 25 times and know every line. Get tickets, then watch the movie before you go.

In the capable hands of director Thalia Schramm, the show barrels along in just over two hours of non-stop hilarity. Not every joke lands, and some are of the head-slapper-groaner variety — but its all there for Monty Python fans: the killer rabbit, the cow, the “bring out ‘yer dead” sequence, the Knights who say Ni, fish-slapping, and other assorted oddities. And for those who have never seen the musical before (cleverly billed in NYC as “the musical for non-musical lovers” a take-off on the 42nd Street ads) you will find that it is far more musical than you might imagine

The 14-member Encore cast is tight and talented — Keith Kalinowski plays a fine King Arthur with Sebastian Gerstner a superb sidekick Patsy (and many other roles — his French Taunter is side-splitting hilarious). Joey DeBenedetto plays many roles with a sly wink and funny (in)ability to look different in every scene (that’s one of the things that made Monty Python’s sketches so clever — you always knew who was playing who)…and of course he gets the evening’s funniest line “its only a flesh wound”. Ryan Dooley likewise turns in a hysterical Sir Robin (among other roles), Brian Charles a very funny Lancelot and Ni Knight, and Jeffry Ogden makes for a outrageously (and intentionally unfeminine) Herbert — his performance channels Monty Python so well that you instantly realize why this show won Best Musical in 2005.  Liz Jaffe has the evening’s most difficult vocal role as the Lady of the Lake, and she sings through her half-dozen songs with a strong voice and wide-variety of inflection, along with some great mugging and slapstick — at one point actually pounding the wall to get her point across. The entire ensemble (playing numerous parts each in this scaled-down version) is terrific: also including Michael Barbour, Piper Friend, Elizabeth Fritsch, Bryana Hall, Erika Jost, Josh Krivan, and Dave Roy. There is also a pre-recorded “Voice of God” by Dan Cooney’s friend from 9 to 5 the musical, Allison Janney.

Sets and lighting are by Dan Walker. The superb costumes are designed and coordinated by Sharon Urick. Matthew Brennan keeps everything moving appropriately with his choreography. R. Mackenzie Lewis does his usual fine job of musical direction, as well as pianist in the orchestra of 5, and they sound terrific — the blend is good between what you hear coming from the orchestra off-stage left, and the singers on stage. The men, in particular, sound great when the vocals are finally allowed to open up and provide some harmonizing.

Thalia Schramm knows that you can’t leave the audience thinking too much during this one — so its full-steam ahead from one groaner to another — the pace keeps everything moving along and will leave you either elated, or befuddled, but nothing less than completely entertained. Great job everyone!

Highly Recommended.

Spamalot opens officially tonight and continues through October 12th at the Encore Musical Theatre Company, 3126 Broad Street, Dexter, MI  734-268-6200  theencoretheatre.org







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