Wednesday, Jul 10 2013 03:41 PM

Review: 'Spamalot' at Stars one grail of a good time

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    The “Laker Girls," aka the handmaidens of the Lady of the Lake, in Stars Theatre Restaurant’s production of "Spamalot." From left: Bethany Rowlee, Alex Burdick, Liz Borud, Kelci Lowry and Lauren Nesbitt.

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    By Photo by Peter Beckman

    King Arthur and his knights go riding off seeking the Holy Grail in the Stars Theatre Restaurant’s production of “Spamalot,” which Californian contributing columnist Camille Gavin named as one of the best local plays of 2013. From left: Sir Robin (Kevin McDonald), Sir Galahad (Ken Burdick), King Arthur (Bob Anderson), Sir Bedevere (Coulter Allison), Patsy, the faithful servant (Shay Burke), and Sir Lancelot (Derreck Reed).

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    Mistaking “Finland"for “England," the ensemble, led by Colter Allison, starts the show with a rousing Finnish “Fish Slapping Song" in "Spamalot," opening Friday at Stars Theatre Restaurant.

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    Sir Galahad (Ken Burdick) and King Arthur (Bob Anderson) dance a jig at the sight of a giant can of Spam, carried by Zach Gonzalez, in "Spamalot," opening Friday at Stars Theatre Restaurant.

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    Camelot turns out to be much like Las Vegas with chorus girls as well as a singing and dancing nun (played by Kelci Lowry) in "Spamalot," opening Friday at Stars Theatre Restaurant.

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BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer

Stars' production of "Spamalot" is laugh-out-loud funny every step of the way.

I saw the matinee on Sunday and at one point -- a hilarious scene in which Sir Lancelot (Derreck Reed) is wooing Prince Herbert (Zachary Gonzalez), much to the distress of Herbert's father (Ken Burdick) -- the laughter from the audience almost stopped the show. Fortunately, the actors had the good sense to stay in character, allowing the laughter to play itself out.

Related Info

"'Spamalot' is one of the best musical comedies Stars has produced in the last two or three years." — Camille Gavin

‘Spamalot’
 
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Stars Restaurant Theatre, 1931 Chester Ave.
Admission: Dinner/show: $54-$59; $38 show only; students dinner/show $39; $23 show only  
Information: 325-6100

If you're a Monty Python fan, and I count myself among them, you'll love the show for the dozens of ways it manages to make fun of just about every tradition, religious belief and ethnic group.

But if the British comedy troupe's irreverent style is new to you, be sure to leave any biases you may have at home and allow yourself to enjoy the good-natured insults.

On the surface, it's the story of King Arthur -- ably played and sung by Bob Anderson -- and the search for the Holy Grail.

The story begins in the Middle Ages with the king visiting various foreign castles in his quest to enlist men to form his round table of knights.

In doing this he is accompanied by his "humble" servant, Patsy (Shay Brandon Burke). The multi-talented Burke also serves as the king's horse when needed and does his own clip-clop sound effects with a pair of coconut shells strung across his chest, plus some help from the orchestra pit by way of percussionist Cyndi Hicks.

At one point in the show, Burke becomes the Dancing Monk and proves it by doing a tap dance, something I'm sure was rarely if ever seen in the court at Camelot.

Similar in style to a French farce with a nod to William Shakespeare, "Spamalot" has plenty of bawdy gestures, sight gags, naughty language and intentional overacting. It also moves back and forth between the 10th century and modern times.

For example, Rosie Ayala -- double-cast as the Lady of the Lake and Guinevere -- never misses a chance to take a shot at Broadway prima donnas by stretching out her ballads with plenty of vocal trills and tremolos. She and Gardner also do some frantic air-kissing, with neither ever touching the other's lips.

Kevin McDonald is the happy-go-lucky Sir Robin, whose signature song is "Brave Sir Robin," in which the Minstrel (Tim Armijo) mocks the knight, saying that when faced by an ugly monster, Robin "chickened out."

Overall, it's an excellent cast; director Brian Sivesind has chosen well and in the performance I saw the comedy's all-important timing was perfect. And that's saying a lot for a show that's a whirlwind of non-stop activity, due in part to the exciting choreography created by Brent Rochon and Marnie Forzetting.

About the only place it slowed down was the scene in which the king and his knights finally discover the rocky cave guarded by a rabbit that contains the holy grail and then must figure out how to get into it. To me, the scene would have been tighter and created more tension if the distance between the actors, the cave and the evil stilted character hadn't been as great. Somehow they just didn't connect.

Greg Mansi's functional two-level set and the clever use of props virtually eliminate the need for scene changes. It also allows Bethany Rowlee to rise high above the walls of a French castle as she hurls epithets, spitballs and stuffed animals at the king and his knights gathered below.

The gorgeous costumes, designed by Kathi Lowry, are a show all their own. Lots of glittering sequins for Ayala and for the high-stepping chorus of dancers, tightly corseted in red bodices atop short black tutus.

I also admired the speed with which the actors, many of whom play more than one role, changed their garments. Makes me think there was a highly efficient backstage crew ready and waiting in the wings.

A first-rate band is a major force in supporting what's happening on stage. Its members are Jason Sliger, Mark Meyer, Randy Fendrick, Cyndi Hicks, Jeff Rosbrugh, Bob Snyder and Adam Clements.

The cast also does a great job of breaking down the so-called fourth wall by bringing members of the audience into the action, along with a drop-down screen to encourage a sing-along finale of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

In my view, "Spamalot" is one of the best musical comedies Stars has produced in the last two or three years. As I write this, I'm still smiling as I recall the performance.

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