Clack your coconuts in double time to get to Spamalot.
Spamalot at the Hayes Theatre is a hit – and anyone who is a fan of slapstick, silliness, and of course, Monty Python should buy tickets now – no need to even finish reading this review.
The set designers have been particularly clever, arranging the seating on both sides of the stage. This means the area designated for the stage is small, even by Hayes standards. But it allows audience members to see each other’s reactions, and watching the pure joy and laughter in others, of all ages, heightens the experience and makes it even more enjoyable.
The very small space doesn’t deter the cast – they do incredible things. Cameron Mitchell, the choreographer has worked in the Hayes space for some time on productions such as High Society, Mack and Mabel, High Fidelity, Calamity Jane, and Cry-Baby – and he’s certainly elevated utilising space to maximum capacity to an art form.
The audience is at times clapping along or waving their arms, and at other times, is upstanding and occasionally dancing. And it’s great. We are all part of a fun night out and the fun is sustained for the duration.
The cast is a faultless ensemble. Director Richard Carroll has pulled together a cohesive team where everyone truly works together as equals. Special kudos to Bishanya Vincent who plays King Arthur’s horse “Patsy”. She replaced an original cast member who left just five days before the start of the season. She is terrific. Most recently seen at the Hayes in Evie May, she was a bit of a crowd favourite.
There’s a strong sense that the whole cast is having fun all the time. It’s clever, the dialogue is incredibly witty, and there is also a little ad-libbing. You are part of this fun that they are inviting the audience into. Each time you hear Patsy knocking her coconuts together to give the sounds of horses’ hooves; each time King Arthur (Cramer Cain) hands the reins of his imaginary horse to someone in the front row; when someone is handed a rubber chicken to mind – it’s a special kind of performance for a special show. Cain is wonderful as the very po-faced Arthur, King of the Britons, announcing his importance at all points on his journey to claim the Holy Grail.
I saw Spamalot on Broadway in 2007 and was smitten with the show. My favourite number in this show – very familiar to Python fans – is “I’m not dead yet” which was brilliantly sung by Rob Johnson as Not Dead Fred. He has a lovely comedic presence, and also played Prince Herbert.
Lady of the Lake, Josie Lane, has a wonderfully powerful voice and is great in her diva role.
A particularly great number is ‘The Song that goes like this’ and the chorus “And once in every show there comes a song like this, it starts off soft and low and ends up with a kiss…” It’s a duet with Sir Galahad (Blake Appelqvist). Blake throws himself into his role(s) and radiates great joy to the audience. He and King Arthur almost corpsed at the beginning of the show but managed to hold it together, just.
Marty Alix plays Sir Robin as a frustrated Broadway Queen. Aaron Tsindos gives Sir Lancelot the brawn without a brain characterisation, as earnestly as he possibly can. And he’s also great when he plays the French Taunter.
Based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, Spamalot is Idle’s musical treatment of the film. Those who are familiar with the film will recognise the Finland/Fisch Schlapping Dance, the Knights that say Ni, Brave Sir Robin, Lancelot and He’s Not Dead Yet, and of course the use of rabbits. The original creation was a product of the Monty Python crew and then years later, Eric Idle decided to make it a musical and hired John du Prez to write the music to his lyrics. And so Spamalot was born.
The musical premiered in New York in 2005, with Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, and Hank Azaria, and with Mike Nichols as director. An Australian production played in Melbourne for about six months in 2007.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Spamalot on Broadway. At the time the Monty Python references were not as familiar to me as they are now, but I remember loving the production all the same. My favourite of all was “You wouldn’t get on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” Being Jewish this delighted me and I was very much looking forward to hearing the clever lyrics once again. So, I was somewhat disappointed when the lyrics were replaced by “You won’t get audiences in Sydney if you don’t have any stars”. However, this was cleverly done and the change will perhaps mean that other people will enjoy these lyrics and identify with them better. Apparently, according to director Carroll, it is a tradition for any production off Broadway to tailor this number to local references. Nonetheless, Spamalot was the most fun I’ve had at the theatre for some time.
Eric Idle visited Australia briefly last year to launch his autobiography “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. He had the sold-out audience of the Seymour Centre in Sydney singing his song but if I remember correctly, he had to ask us to sing along. In comparison, as soon as the song started at Hayes, we sang, we whistled, we assumed roles as part of the production.