‘Spamalot’ at Dogwood Dell is hilarious fun and IT’S FREE!
Read More: A.A. “Corbin” Puryear, Aza Raine, Barbara Brock, Beck Jones, Ben Miller, Brent Deekens, Cooper Sved, Devario D. Simmons, Dogwood Dell, Dylan Tipton, Gretta Daughtrey, Joe Pabst, Karen Moody, Katherine Brand, Leanna Hicks, Mitchell Ashe, Nicole Morris, Paul Dandridge, Philip Malone, RVA theatre, Scott Melton, Wally Jones
“We are the men from Camelot. We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!”
From that line in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail spawned the 2005 Broadway Musical hit Spamalot which receives a raucously entertaining production by Richmond Parks and Recreation at Dogwood Dell. And it’s free!
Most Baby Boomers know Monty Python, the 70’s British comedy troupe of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.
Younger generations may be less familiar (through the fault of their parents) but can now be exposed to one of the best examples of parody and satire ever created.
This production has been expertly directed by Joe Pabst to find all of the comedy, parody and satire available. While aided by a wonderful script, Pabst and his team succeed at getting satire right where many companies fail. Irreverence combined with attention to detail is the key, and Pabst stages so many comedy bits that you marvel at the constant bombardment of creativity and foolishness. Not all the bits work, but theater isn’t about perfection, it’s about serious dedication to craft. Pabst and company check that box.
The cast of 24 is superlative. Not a clunker in the bunch. Fine actors, excellent singers, talented dancers and gifted comics. The combination of talents is indispensable to a successful musical theater production.
Choreographer Aza Raine hasn’t made it easy on his cast. His routines are acrobatic, frenetically physical and seriously intricate. The cast digs in and executes very well. From tap dancing to a recreation of the bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof, Raine goes for the big payoffs and wins.
Maestro Ben Miller’s pit orchestra provides excellent accompaniment. Powerful and rich without being overwhelming, many of the talented musicians doubling, and sometimes tripling on instruments, the Dell is very lucky indeed to have such a professional group play.
Miller, as Musical Director, is also responsible for teaching the score to the cast. The chorus sound was mellifluous and full bodied. The solos were, for the most part, very well sung.
King Arthur (a charming Scott Melton) travels the land with his servant Patsy (the priceless Nicole Morris), who follows him around banging two coconut shells together to make the sound of a horse’s hooves as Arthur “rides” before him, trying to recruit Knights of the Round Table to join him in Camelot.
They come upon Sir Robin (A.A. “Corbin” Puryear), a traveling mortician who walks the streets shouting “Bring out your dead!” Sir Lancelot (Brent Deekens) attempts to bring out “Not Dead Fred.” Fred (Mitchell Ashe) insists he’s not dead and to prove it Ashe does cartwheels, somersaults and very impressive physical contortions that make you hurt just watching them. He’s marvelous.
Arthur then attempts to enlist Dennis Galahad (Paul Dandridge). Dennis, however is having none of it because he is a political radical and denies the claim of any man calling himself “king” who has not been chosen by the people in a democratically engineered election. He is supported in this view by his mother (the hilariously cross dressed Wally Jones). Dandridge, Jones and Melton engage in a comic exchange that is perfectly timed and, as a result, wickedly funny. Galahad rejects Arthur’s advancements until Arthur calls upon the Lady of the Lake (the fabulously multi-costumed Leanna Hicks) and her “Laker Girls” to woo Galahad into the fold.
The knights arrive in Camelot, which in this version resembles a Las Vegas casino with strippers, showgirls and The Lady of the Lake headlining the lounge backed up by her Laker Girls.
In the midst of all this hedonistic revelry, we hear the Voice of God who directs the knights to seek the Holy Grail, the chalice from which Jesus drank at The Last Supper.
Adventures ensue including a fierce debate with a nasty Frenchman (an extremely funny Karen Moody (”I fart in your general direction”)) and a run in with a murderous rabbit.
On their journey, the knights run across a rival band of giant warriors who call themselves “The Knights Who Say “Ni”” who demand as payment to cross their land a shrubbery. When the shrubbery is produced they add another request. The knights must produce a Broadway Musical (“but not an Andrew Lloyd Webber,” they implore). The knights have no idea how to go about doing that.
Arthur is told they will never succeed in producing a Broadway Musical because:
“[L]isten, Arthur darling, closely to this news:
We won’t succeed on Broadway,
If you don’t have any Jews.”
And so Arthur and his men search England high and low for some Jews. Of course in the middle ages, they are not going to find any. All they needed to do was look in the audience!
There is also a run in with a young damsel in distress who turns out to be the very fey and gay Prince Herbert (a funny, funny Cooper Sved) whose father (a pompously cross dressed Beck Jones) seeks to marry him off to a woman, who he obviously would rather avoid. Lancelot to the rescue, only to discover the ruse but also discover his own true sexual identity. The outing of Lancelot is celebrated by the wild disco song “His Name is Lancelot”:
“You’re a knight who really likes his night life
And by day you really like to play
You can all find him pumping at the gym
At the Camelot Y.M.C.A.!”
Ultimately Arthur realizes that he has been in a Broadway Musical all along and a clue is revealed as to where he might find the Holy Grail.
The talent is so deep in this cast, each of them deserve mention. From lead role to chorus, all can be proud of their work.
The set by Philip Malone was very simple and perfect for the extra-large space. The lighting by Gretta Daughtrey had some challenges keeping everyone lit in the night time performance.
The technical stars of the night were the costume and props personnel. Director Joe Pabst asked a great deal out of both masters and was splendidly rewarded.
The costume designs by Devario D. Simmons and Katherine Brand were ambitious and scrumptious to look at. The knights were appropriately outfitted to be sure, but the amazing designs made for the Lady of the Lake and the Laker girls, in all their various guises, were breathtaking. These were not retreads from years past, these were original costumes that looked like they ate up half the budget whether they did or not.
The show is prop heavy. Trojan Rabbits, decimated falling body parts, eons of swords, armor, murderous rabbits, dead cows and scores of dead fish. There is no Prop Master listed, which gives me the opportunity to credit this, and all other things going onstage to the Stage manager Dylan Tipton who managed to keep it all together.
The Dogwood Dell stage has always been the starting place for many local actors and singers. This year is no exception. Fabulous newcomers and some very talented veterans share the stage. The Dell and the productions produced there are very special to the Richmond theatre community and a great public service to the Richmond community as a whole. Producer Barbara Brock is to be commended for her steadfast dedication in making the entire Summer Arts Festival a priority and a success.
AND IT’S FREE!
Spamalot continues for two final performances at 8:30 p.m. on August 4th, 5th and 6th at Dogwood Dell in The Carillon.
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