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Theater Review: A Bright Spot in Summer Theatre Spamalot

An expert ensemble parodies the legendary Knights of the Round Table, and all the elements of the Arthurian quest motif become comic fodder in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Winner of three 2005 Tony awards, including Best Musical, a touring production of this much-loved Python vehicle opened the Ahmanson’s 2009 season earlier this month. Under the sure-handed direction of Tony winner Mike Nichols, the show is side-splitting.

A stage adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the play’s book and lyrics were penned by the ever-observant comedic master Eric Idle, with uproarious music composed by Idle and John Du Prez.

John O’Hurley stars as King Arthur in this ridiculous romp toward the coveted gold cup from which Jesus supposedly sipped at the Last Supper. Backing O’Hurley is a gaggle of actors carefully cast as the befuddled knights. There’s James Beaman as Sir Robin, a cowardly chap who turns to knighthood because he likes the song-and-dance part of the job; Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad, a working-class, political radical whose choice to follow Arthur comes only after The Lady of the Lake (a powerful Merle Dandridge) convinces him that Arthur is authentic; and the impossibly versatile Rick Holmes as a closeted Lancelot whose outing in Act II is a Vegas-style toe-tapper. As most of the actors do, Holmes plays multiple roles, the screamingly funniest of which is The French Taunter, a sarcastic, lewd Frenchman out to impede Arthur and company. Jeff Dumas scores major kudos as Patsy, Arthur’s faithful servant who sings the first go-round of “Always Look on The Bright Side of Life,” a famous tune full of cheer that also closes the show amidst a burst of confetti. Throughout, Dandridge steals every scene she’s in with her booming singing voice, sharp comic delivery, and statuesque presence.

Though the basic goal is to make fun of Broadway musicals, Monty Python’s Spamalot takes aim at myriad targets along the way. The French, the Jews, the Christians, the gays, and the Brits all get picked on here, so be sure your sense of humor is fully intact.

Casey Nicholaw’s choreography kills and Hugh Vanstone’s lighting amps up the cartoonish action. Tim Hatley’s set and costumes complete the airtight comedy.

Tickets start at $30 and are available by calling 213.972.4400 or visiting www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.  

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