Believe it or not, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the British (plus one American) comedy troupe's first original -- and now cult -- film. It debuted a year after PBS imported "Monty Python's Flying Circus" to the states and rapidly indoctrinated the youth of America (and hip adults) to the stream-of-consciousness and intelligently silly comedy of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
Ten years ago, Idle, the more musically inclined member of the group, wrote the book and lyrics of a Broadway musical based on the film (the music is by John Du Prez and Idle). Python fans around the world rejoiced with rousing choruses of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" -- a song that actually debuted in another Monty Python film. The musical re-creates many of the sketches and scenes from "Holy Grail" verbatim, along with some familiar tunes from Pythonland and several new ones, such as "I'm Not Dead."
"Spamalot"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 25
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Nearby public garage and street parking
Rating: For teens and older, contains sexual situations, adult language
The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has mounted a faithful and professional production of the show with a superb cast. It's all here: the sword fight with the Black Knight ("It's just a flesh wound!"), Prince Herbert ("I just want to ... sing!"), the Knights Who Say "Ni" ("Bring us a shrubbery!") and Brave Sir Robin ("He turned and ran away ...!").
Fans of the comedy team will doubtless be reciting the dialogue and singing along with the show. But will audience members who have been on another planet, unfamiliar with the original film or Monty Python in general, have a good time? Probably. One might not get all the in-jokes that have become second nature to Python fans, but there's enough singing and dancing and Broadway pizazz in this spoof of King Arthur's quest to put a smile on the face of the most jaded theatregoer.
Joe Bianco, as King Arthur, is a delight. He delivers his straight man lines with the right amount of nudge-nudge-wink-wink, making his performance consciously self-deprecating. Timothy Sullivan, as Sir Robin, is also very good -- in fact, his resemblance to Michael Palin is a positive casting decision. Ryan J. Duncan, as Patsy, has some scene-stealing moments, and Timothy Casey as Sir Bedevere makes the most of his comic bits.
Statuesque Mackenzie Curran, who portrays the Lady of the Lake, has a powerful and gorgeous voice that bumps her palpable stage presence up to an 11. Jack McFarlane takes on multiple roles with the diversity of an honorary Python. The ensemble is made up of talented and visually pleasing young men and women who tap and sing their way through the show with aplomb. Standouts include Allyssa O'Donnell, Taylor Ditola and Joseph Kuchey.
Director Robin M. Hughes has wisely staged the show with an open ground plan so that multiple settings can be quickly moved on and off with minimal, improvised props and scenery. It's also commendable that Hughes encouraged the actors to present the characters with the English accents we associate with them. One exception, however, is her direction of Kevin Lauerman as Sir Lancelot, who seems to deliberately avoid mimicking the characters originally played by John Cleese, as if the actor is attempting to make the lines "his own." This is a mistake. The material contained in Python's beloved, oft-quoted sketches is expected to be delivered as we know it -- otherwise the timing and inflection in the lines do not work.
But that's a quibble. Metropolis' "Spamalot" is great fun and guaranteed to make you cry out -- "I'm not dead yet!"