By Barry Reszel
Bawdy, but not Book of Mormon cringeworthy, Spamalot, a musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (with generous contributions from comic troupe Monty Python’s other films and long-running television show), feels much more Mel Brooks-with-a-British-accent.
That just fits Mercury Theater Chicago and its brilliant artistic duo of Eugene Dizon (music) and L. Walter Stearns (management and direction). Putting their own terrific spin on the 2005 Tony winning Best Musical that garnered 12 nominations, the assemblage of top-flight Chicagoland talent onstage and backstage (no surprise for regular patrons of Mercury or its sister Venus Cabaret next door) is hugely successful with this unleashing of Monty Python silliness.
Troupe member Eric Idle is responsible for the book and its memorable songs (along with John DuPrez). The slapstick satire is loosely based on the Arthurian legend, but Monty Python won’t allow history to get in the way of a joke—be it biting, nonsensical or just plain goofy. So a host of fictional characters appear alongside noble King Arthur and right-hand man Lancelot, who uses this musical to come out and admit his homosexuality (too bad for Camelot). A full plot summary, production history and character breakdown may be read here.
As Arthur, King of the Britons, Jonah D. Winston is a commanding presence relegated to playing the straight man to every comic element Stearns jams into this production. His greatest beneficiary is young Greg Foster as aptly-named sidekick Patsy who steals nearly every scene he’s in and leads the show’s best song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
To Chicagoland musical theatre aficionados who didn’t already know (and plan accordingly), Meghan Murphy is this production’s Lady of the Lake. Don’t make me repeat that…proceed to the link at the bottom of this review and buy your tickets. With no place in the story, this strange character is inserted simply to instill a sexy diva into the mix and belt out the send-up to musicals, “The Song That Goes Like This,” (a duet with Sir Galahad fabulously played by favorite David Sajewich) and hilarious “The Diva’s Lament.” Suffice it to say Murphy is all that…and then some. She is a Chicagoland stage gem.
Each of the hard-working actors making up this cast of 14 fully contributes to the quality silliniess imagined by Palin. Adam Fane is both the Historian narrator and Not Dead Fred; Adam Ross Brody is most memorable as fearful Sir Robin; Chicagoland favorite Karl Hamilton takes on the role of the Lancelot audiences never knew. And in this male-dominated show, a shout-out to Erica Evans, Emma Parssi and Ariel Etena Triunfo as representatives of the strong ensemble of triple threats.
Backstage plaudits go to Angie Weber Miller for her Pythonesque multi-leveled set allowing for perfect sightlines from any of Mercury’s seats; Tim Hatley for creative costuming; Kevin Barthel for spot-on hair and wig design; Denise Karczewski for fabulous lighting; and Shanna Vanderwerker for splendid choreography, wonderfully executed. Finally, Dizon’s magnificent musical direction certainly makes his six-piece backstage orchestra feel a whole lot larger.
Yet again, Stearns and Dizon put forward a neighborhood-venue musical that holds up against any show on any stage in the metropolis. Anyone who might find a good time taking in the “musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail'” won’t find a better production than the one happening six times a week in Wrigleyville.
Mercury Theater Chicago presents “Spamalot” through December 29 at 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.