Old England was never so merry — nor so silly — as in Monty Python’s Spamalot.
Winner of the 2005 Tony Award as best musical, Spamalot is the spring’s big-deal production from Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. And in terms of the talent onstage, the goofy amalgam of Arthurian legend, musical theater and the Python sensibility delivers as promised.
Director David Arisco has elicited strong, comedically deft performances from his 20-person cast, a company in which six of the eight principal actors play multiple roles. Choreographer Ron Hutchins contributes splashy, witty dance numbers that are perfectly in the spirit of the show. Musical director David Nagy leads a small but effective band. And costume designer Ellis Tillman, working with Costume World Theatrical, has come up with a vast array of outfits that are as amusing as the performers wearing them.
Yet two things keep Actors’ Spamalot from being an unqualified success.
One, the adapted version of an original set by Jim Hunter is unlikely to change. It’s cartoonish, which isn’t wrong for the show, but it also looks cheap and tacky, and it doesn’t artfully fill the stage. Nor does Luke Klingberg’s strategic lighting disguise the gaps in the design. Why surround talented, well-costumed actors with an inferior set?
The second problem should be resolved quickly. Sound guy Sean Lawson may have done good design work, but on opening night it was impossible to tell. Crackling, feedback and microphones that cut in and out were noticeable throughout the show. Terrific singing — and there is so much of it in this Spamalot — shouldn’t be undermined by sound issues.
As King Arthur, Gary Marachek leads a rag-tag band of knights on a quest to find the Holy Grail. That journey takes them through an array of Monty Python bits, musical-theater parody numbers (notably Phantom of the Opera and Fiddler on the Roof) and finally to a Las Vegas version of Camelot. Forever bemused, Marachek is a precisely calibrated Arthur, funny in word, movement and song without going over the top.
Strapping Jim Ballard gets to demonstrate his versatility as a French taunter, a knight who says “ ni,” Tim the Enchanter and, most hilariously, a different kind of Sir Lancelot. Ditto Shane R. Tanner as the winningly vain Sir Dennis Galahad, the ridiculous Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s very hairy father. Gabriel Zenone brings an intricately detailed, cool sensibility to Sir Robin, while Wayne LeGette is a fine Sir Bedevere and a funny Mrs. Galahad, Dennis’ widowed mother.
Orbiting Arthur and his knights are Paul Louis as the king’s loyal, under-appreciated and aptly named servant Patsy; Jose Luaces, a spark plug of a performer, playing five characters including Herbert, a prince with a penchant for pink; and Lindsey Forgey as the amusing, plot-driving diva known as the Lady of the Lake.
Vocally powerful, the largely local cast underscores just how much musical-theater talent now calls South Florida home. Here’s hoping that, as the fun and funny Spamalot continues its run, the sound mix will allow the actors to sparkle like that finally-found grail.