The search for the Holy Grail takes a turn for the absurd and ludicrous when God charges King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table to find the cup of Christ in the raucous musical, Spamalot, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
This story, based off of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is actually a natural fit for a musical thanks to the unique, nonsense humor of Monty Python. Since anything could, and often did, happen in Monty Python sketches, the thought of songs suddenly breaking out of nowhere seems like another day on the job for the Python crew. The script is sharp and witty and a fairly good translation of the film due to the fact that it was written by Python alum, Eric Idle, who also composed the music with John Du Prez.
Even if you have seen the film, the musical promises lots of surprises with new scenes and characters not present in the original movie. The flip side of this is that some of the classic moments of the film do not make it into the musical which may disappoint purists. The new material is very good for the most part, but some of it is actually based off of old Python sketches causing those particular jokes to feel a bit forced since they were gags meant for something other than this play’s source material.
The directing of Mark Robinson and Jeff Horger is excellent. This is a very high energy show and the pace never drags, slows, or pauses. It is also very well staged and the two directors have shaped some strong, sharp performances from their group of actors.
Nick Albrecht blasts a home run in his Playhouse debut in the role of King Arthur. Albrecht’s presence fills the theatre and his powerful baritone imbues Arthur with just the right blend of majesty, authority, and, dare I say, humility. It is easy to see why people would want to follow this Arthur as Albrecht seems like a natural leader. He also has a wry, subtle sense of humor best exemplified in numbers such as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and “Knights of the Round Table” with the latter being a particular highlight due to his “dancing”. At the same time, Albrecht was also capable of fine dramatic moments with “Find Your Grail” and “I’m All Alone”.
Melanie Walters nearly swipes this show from the rest of the cast with her turn as the Lady of the Lake (as well as doing double duty as the show’s choreographer). Beginning as an otherworldly fairy who granted the sword, Excalibur, to Arthur, Ms Walter slowly morphs into a diva as her acting gets a little bigger each and every time she appears on stage, culminating in her big moment “Whatever Happened to My Part?” which is actually a massive gripe about her lack of stage time. And, heavens, can she sing! Aside from her featured number, Ms Walters’ nearly superhuman alto also belted out several variations of “The Song That Goes Like This” (once in a dead on mimicry of Bette Midler) that was a treat for the ears. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission and was one of the funniest performances of the season.
I would like to know where Matthias Jeske has been hiding because his is a phenomenal talent. Jeske is a marvelously versatile performer as he leaps between multiple characters in his Playhouse debut. So skillful and nuanced were Jeske’s changes in voice and body language that I found myself looking at my program several times and was stunned to discover that I was watching the same actor that I had only seen moments before. Whether he was the erudite, if slightly pompous, Historian, the imposing Knight who said Ni, or the land hungry, music despising king of Swamp Castle, Jeske could do no wrong in a stunning, tour de force performance. Jeske was equally impressive on the singing and dancing side of things with gut busting turns as Not Dead Fred in “I’m Not Dead Yet” and Sir Robin’s chief minstrel in “Brave Sir Robin”.
Other standouts in the cast were Zach Kloppenborg as the brutally violent, Sir Lancelot, who has his own secret (“His Name is Lancelot”) and the mercilessly funny French Taunter. Brian Preisman’s coconut clapping and laconic Patsy. Adam Hogston, whose cowardly Sir Robin joins the Knights because he wants to sing and dance and gets his chance in “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”. Don Harris as the intelligent Sir Bedevere (channeling a little Bill Murray) and the widowed, lonely mother of Dennis/Sir Galahad. Ryan Pivonka as the acerbic Dennis who is transformed into the dashing Sir Galahad. Marcus Benzel who dominates the stage in an awesome cameo performance as the effeminate Prince Herbert.
Jim Boggess and his orchestra strike gold again with a precisely performed and spritely score. Steven Williams’ lighting and special effects add the right bit of atmosphere. Steve Wheeldon’s scenery dazzles as we roam from old castles to “very expensive forests”.
A few minor flaws were present in the night’s performance. There were sound issues on a few occasions and some of the dancers were slightly off at a couple of points. The duel between King Arthur and the Black Knight also needed some tidying. But these small quibbles are instantly forgotten in this hilarious and energetic romp.
Deep this show is not. It’s all about fun and entertaining the audience. Yet there is one deep thought prevalent in the show and that’s when Arthur refers to the quest for the Grail as a search for the Grail within ourselves or finding the one thing which makes us happy which all of the characters in this show are able to do. I found that quite profound and a valuable life lesson. So come see Spamalot for the moral lesson, but stay for the comedy. Just watch out for that rabbit. . .
Spamalot plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 28. Showtimes are 7:30pm Wed-Sat and 2pm on Sundays. Tickets cost $40 for adults and $25 for students. Contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.