News Column

Review: Gags, singing carry Little Theatre's 'Spamalot'

August 2, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 02--SULLIVAN -- Before the premiere of "Spamalot" at Sullivan's Little Theatre-On the Square, director Christie Kerr described the show as uncomplicated but entertaining.

Unlike, say, "Fiddler on the Roof" earlier in the season, this isn't a Broadway musical overflowing with plot, emotion or high stakes. Instead, it's an airy show packed with gags that seamlessly flow for two hours from one into the next. And luckily for the Little Theatre, they're pretty funny gags at that.

As an adaptation of the 1975 film comedy classic "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the show keeps the spirit of that movie's meager plot pretty much intact. Names and origin stories are changed slightly, but the same knights of King Arthur's round table are there, and their quest is unchanged -- to retrieve the Holy Grail on special mandate from God. That one MacGuffin provides all the necessary exposition to launch into a series of absurdist hijinks.

Those absurd jokes played surprisingly well at a Wednesday afternoon premiere to a Central Illinois crowd that may or may not have been well-acquainted with the source material. It was telling that jokes and dialogue culled directly from the film got the same uniformly positive reaction as new jokes threaded into those same scenes. The performers treat them all as one and the same, making it tough to tell where the source material ends and acting license or improvisation begin.

In many ways, this end-of-the-season show also serves as a fitting send-off to many summer cast members and returning guests. Visiting actors like Robert Anthony Jones as Arthur and Marc Pera as his servant Patsy have meaty roles that reflect their prominence throughout the season. Sean Zimmerman likewise sticks around after his headlining appearance as Will Rogers, joined by actor/director Karla Shook. It's a veritable who's who of recent Little Theatre talent.

Likewise, a few members of the summer cast get nice spotlight moments as "Spamalot" closes out the season. Jared Titus, who already played a very funny supporting role in "Anything Goes," is great here as the cowardly Sir Robin, who also proves to be an unexpected trove of insight into Broadway musicals. His major song, "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," skewers many other shows, briefly bringing a comedic tone that seems a touch more Mel Brooks than Monty Python.

Also of note are some great costumes and multi-purpose sets that help elevate the show. Each knight has their own distinctive, colorful garb with sigils that illustrate their personalities. Certain bit characters, like the "Knights Who Say Ni," have truly ridiculous outfits that can elicit a laugh before they ever get a single line of dialog. The sets, meanwhile, are simplistic but integral to the limited plot, being rotated and repositioned at will to fit numerous situations. They make the show feel grander than it truly is, a feeling that recurs often.

Ultimately, that's what "Spamalot" at The Little Theatre is really all about -- flashy and showy entertainment that revels in a certain shameless panache.

jvorel@herald-review.com|(217) 421-7973

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