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A belly full of laughter: EPAC presents ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’
For most who know my father-in-law, Jake Law, he is the last person they would expect to see walking into an opening weekend performance of “Spamalot” at EPAC. Other than an unhealthy obsession with “Phantom of the Opera” and attending his granddaughter’s Kids4Kids performances, the 65-year old siding and replacement window contractor is rarely seen anywhere near a performing arts center. (The “Phantom of the Opera” obsession comes from his love of and skill on the keyboard. He’s the reason I love Jimmy McGriff. He has a Hammond B3 and Leslie amp in his living room. At one time his garage housed an entire pipe organ-in various stages of assembly.) Oddly enough, he has seen several shows on Broadway. One was “Spamalot.” I was jealous; I really don’t think he knew who Monty Python was at the time he went! So, when I got the chance to take a guest to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre I immediately thought of getting some bonding time in with my wife’s Pop.
After a couple drinks at Legion Post 429, we headed over to a well-filled theatre ready for some laughs. Oh, did we — and everyone else in attendance — laugh. EPAC’s “Spamalot” may be one of the most hilarious times anyone could spend in theatre seats. It helps to be familiar with Monty Python, but the humor will still be there without the background. Essentially, “Spamalot” is a creative mashup of the British comedy troupe’s most famous skits loosely tied together with a “Holy Grail”-inspired plot designed to move the show from one joke to the next. There are some references only hardcore Pythonites will catch; however, the show stands on its own as a comedy and musical theatre fans will adore the fact the show takes one jab after another at the genre itself.
In true Python fashion, the scene is set by a narrator, this time by the Historian played by EPAC regular Alex Bannon (last seen as Victor in “Cabaret”). Clip clop, clip clop, enters King Arthur (Carl Bomberger, “Sunday in the Park with George”) riding an invisible horse accompanied by sound emitting from coconut halves in the hands of his trusty assistant, Patsy (Rogan Motter, the soon-to-be recipient of a Master of American Studies from Penn State). King Arthur’s quest: find the Holy Grail. During his travels, King Arthur wades through plague infestation, bands together his troupe of merry men, battles the Knights Who Say Ni, and delves into the truth of what it means to be-and be in-a Broadway musical.
Returning to, and owning, the EPAC stage is Martha Marie Wasser as Arthur’s muse, the Lady of the Lake. Her commanding and beautiful voice is featured in numbers named “Come with Me,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” and “Whatever Happened to My Part.” Her ability to sing at such a strong level gave the soundman a bit of a fit, but her ability to convey emotion and comedy through song made her a highlight of the show.
“Spamalot” features many memorable bits and songs taken from the TV series Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the troupe’s many films, including “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Preston Schreffler returns to EPAC (“Cabaret,” “Sunday in the Park with George”) with a great portrayal of The Dashingly Handsome Sir Galahad.
Eventually musical theatre becomes the butt of many jokes in “Spamalot,” especially during the number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” Even EPAC artistic director and “Spamalot” assistant director Ed Fernandez got in on the action with a brief cameo appearance. Before the performance, Fernandez paid special recognition to “everyone backstage and the entire crew” of what he described as a big show.
Big may not be a big enough word to describe “Spamalot.” With four full racks of costumes needed for the 21-person show, special recognition should be awarded to costume designer Kate Willman, wardrobe supervisor Jenn Farrington, and all those who helped pull off an insane amount of costume changes. The playbill for the show offers a special thanks to Pierre’s Costumes of Philadelphia.
Without spoiling the surprise, watch out for the giant, pointing hand at the end of the show. “Spamalot” is a special kind of absurdity; it’s a musical of epic proportions and the EPAC cast barely missed a laugh-on the evening I attended I think some of the crowd was a bit unsure of the “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” bit, which pokes fun at the amount of Jewish people involved in show biz.
Overall, the show was a hilarious success. As the players welcomed a standing ovation at the end of the show the audience was invited into a singalong of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” My father-in-law was laughing and being a musician focused on the music of the show. The eight-person pit was so good he thought it was a recording. Nope, it’s a live orchestra … and it’s got big fangs!
Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at 354-0609.