Article 172

"Spamalot" at Palace Theatre delivers for its fans

No one can accuse theater of being stuffy when "Monty Python's Spamalot" gallops into town. The faithful show up in "Spamalot" T-shirts, the souvenir booth sells stuffed bunnies, and the playbill helpfully includes a definition of Spam.

"Spamalot" is one of those shows that's developed a cult following. The crowd, primed to recite lines and gags they know well, came to Tuesday's opening night at the Palace Theatre in PlayhouseSquare ready to laugh. The excellent touring production, led by Richard Chamberlain, delivered in spades.

As you may or may not know, "Spamalot" is not a play about cooking but a Tony Award-winning musical comedy based on the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The musical closed on Broadway this year after a nearly four-year run.

The touring show does not suffer in its translation from Broadway. In fact, the smaller Palace Theatre makes for a more intimate, funnier evening. There's not much plot, just a series of loosely connected scenes concerning King Arthur, his knights of the Round Table and their search for the Holy Grail.

Chamberlain, looking just as swoon-worthy as he did in his "Dr. Kildare" and "The Thorn Birds" days, makes an appropriately pompous King Arthur. He lets his natural stage presence carry him most of the way and allows the nimbler cast members to handle the dancing. His voice is still rich but could have come through more powerfully in his big solo, "I'm All Alone."

The first-rate cast includes a familiar face from the Broadway production, Merle Dandridge as the Lady of the Lake. Her supple voice adds comic touches to several numbers, especially "The Song That Goes Like This," a sarcastic jab at cliched Broadway love songs, and "The Diva's Lament."

The cast frolics through all the silly numbers, sight gags and groan-inducing puns the audience relishes - Knights Who Say Ni, corpses who aren't quite dead yet, rude French knights and a terrifying rabbit. A Las Vegas-style number ("Knights of the Round Table") and a very un-PC tune ("You Won't Succeed on Broadway") were terrific.

James Beaman as Sir Robin, David Havasi as Sir Galahad, Matthew Greer as Sir Lancelot and Jeff Dumas as Patsy shine throughout the show, especially in the exuberant "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

During the final curtain, Chamberlain celebrated his 75th birthday with a standing ovation, cake and an explosion of confetti. The audience didn't get any cake but headed home smiling and humming anyway.

© 2009 Julie E. Washington

Richard Chamberlain Online