Theater Review: Laugh a lot at ‘Spamalot’ in Mesa

Jennifer Haaland, Mesa Performing Arts Examiner | Examiner.com | March 6, 2016

As movie enthusiasts and 2005 Tony Best Musical fans well know, last night’s “Spamalot” at Mesa Arts Center relayed Arthurian legend through the crumpled strainer of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” For serious purists it was not. For ribald, irreverent humor enthusiasts, Mesa Encore Theatre’s (MET) current production was all in.

Opening with purposely painful orchestra warm-ups and a subsequent cannon shot that silenced an inept trumpeter, the groan-able giggle tone was set from the get go. As the peasants, with highbrow humor and superior intellect, interrupted King Arthur’s dim-witted knight collection in the opening scenes, laughter ensued. A clear favorite, “I Am Not Yet Dead,” led by Fred (David Chorley) snagged big guffaws.

In fact, Chorley had putty rather than facial muscle like the rest of us. With matching demeanor, he molded and formed expressions into the most ridiculous, multiple, side-splitting characters and was among the evening’s most uproarious highlights. Dejected and ignored Patsy (Andy Newman) as King Arthur’s kicked around sidekick also tugged at our hearts while he tickled our funny bones. His future as a coconut-shelled, equine-impersonator is also bright.

Bryan Rosen’s set design and the technical oversight by Kerry Jordan were among the most seriously successful endeavors of a most silly night. With effective video projections, castle and stained glass elements, a ridiculous Trojan Rabbit, dry-iced fog and more, the creative team was on their toes, providing one of the strongest technical efforts in recent MET productions.

The knights themselves, Sir Lancelot (Chris Fidler) and Sir Robin (Michael Stewart) in particular–playing slapsticking, punnsters to the hilt–, had even the curmudgeons in the crowd laughing. Though little of the delighting dialogue even pretended sincerity, their harmony was nonetheless well-coached, full-voiced and true.

With a show that places the Round Table endeavors in a roulette wheel Vegas setting, conjuring any meaningful messages amidst the trite frivolity is never intended. That makes the show hard on the characters who are supposed to sometimes deliver inspiration or even just move the plot toward a logical direction. The script, too, gets detrimentally aimless in Act Two. Straight man King Arthur (Bill Bennett) and the vivacious Lady of the Lake (Lizz Reeves Fidler) hence, present the greatest challenges. Through excellently-paced staging and beautifully costumed dazzle, not to mention some powerful pipes, both Bennett and Fidler fared well.

Winking barbs at gay marriage and spoofs of Bernie Sander’s kept MET’s “Spamalot” lively and timely. Alert-eared Broadway fans might even catch fun elbowing nods toward heavy hitters like Sondheim. A good time was had by all opening night. Even those with a dread of the overly silly laughed right out loud.

Comments are closed.