Florida Studio Theatre is taking audiences back to the dark ages with its current production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” (Let’s just call them “The Middle Ages,” that sounds less depressing.) As fans of the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” know, said epoch was a time of war, famine, pestilence and hilarity. Thanks to the Tony award-winning, 2005 musical adaptation, they can also be seen as a time of war, famine, pestilence, hilarity, song and dance.
Medieval historians note: The musical on the FST stage is a “loving rip-off” of the 1975 film, with uncredited looting from Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.” The stage adaptation’s Arthurian authors are Eric Idle (a Monty Python alum) and his faithful musical collaborator, John Du Prez, (with additional material from Neil Innes of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fame). Director Bruce Jordan and choreographer Lori Leshner bring their medieval madness to life.
As the original movie mocked the filmed adventures of knights and men in tights (Arthur Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, et al.), so the stage adaptation skewers Broadway musical theater. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bob Fosse get their share of comic arrows — even “Fiddler on the Roof.” Oy.
In case you’ve never seen a late night rerun of “Excalibur,” the story concerns King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail with a quartet of dysfunctional knights (Danny Bernardy, Gil Brady, Jake Mills and Bruce Warren) whose key strategy is “Run Away!” Arthur’s also aided by his longsuffering manservant Patsy (Kevin Loreque) and the Lady of the Lake (Priscilla Fernandez). This “scimitar-lobbing bint” was only referred to in the movie; she gets plenty of stage time in the musical — though, diva that she is, the Lady mourns that it isn’t enough.
On their quest, Arthur and Co. encounter God, a stuffy historian (Jacob Hoffman), an anarchist peasant, the Knights of Ni, French Knights, the Black Knight, a Trojan rabbit, a killer rabbit, Vegas showgirls, and a pining princeling. All of that may sound familiar. But it’s not as familiar as you might think …
As noted, the musical draws much of its mad material from the ripped-off film — but this isn’t a “Rocky Horror” situation where stage and screen versions are interchangeable. Where the movie turned left, the musical will often turn right. New characters emerge. Others are dropped. The musical is its own comic beast and works on its own terms, whether you’ve seen the film or not. And boy does it work.
The curtain goes up, you start laughing — and then you don’t stop.
And why should you?
The ingredients are all there. Brilliant comic timing and choreography from Jordan and Leshner. Cockeyed comic acting from everyone involved. Clever costumes from Sarah Bertolozzi. Skewed set design from Jim Hunter (a winding path through a forest and a pop-up book medieval castle). As for the songs? They’re hilarious. On many levels.
You could call this a musical for people who hate musicals. In fact, let’s do that. This is a musical for people who hate musicals.
“The Song that Goes Like This” throws a pie in Webber’s formulaic face. (As noted, there are pies for Fosse and “Fiddler,” too.) “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (lovingly ripped-off from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”) is a Bronx cheer for “Tomorrow,” “Keep Your Sunny Side Up” and every other dose of cheap optimism. The final show-stopper — “Find Your Grail” — is a fish-slap to everyone’s face. (Everyone in the audience, that is. The last laugh is, in fact, on you.) The original movie ended by cheating you of an ending. (1975 U.K. cops arrest Arthur and Co.) But the musical gives you exactly the ending you want. A warm dose of emotional manipulation, nudge-nudge, wink-wink. I’d call it post-modern, but it’s actually funny, so let’s just call it excellent satire. A satiric slap at a by-the-numbers, feel-good ending, to be sure. But you still feel good.
If you feel like laughing yourself silly between occasional breaths, see this musical.
And, perhaps most importantly, find your grail.
IF YOU GO
“Monty Python’s Spamalot” runs through Jan. 25, at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre, 1247 First St., Sarasota. Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org for more information.