From the opening fish-slapping dance to the final reprise of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” Monty Python’s Spamalot is precisely what you would expect: A brilliantly successful transfer of the British comedy troupe’s unique sensibility to the musical-theater stage. A mash-up of recycled sketches (mostly from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and loving send-up of Broadway shows, the 2005 Tony Award winner for Best Musical expertly walks the line between silly and clever.
PCPA Theaterfest’s high-energy production, which runs through mid-August at Solvang Festival Theater, beautifully captures the material’s outrageous glee. The company warns that the show isn’t for the “easily offended.” True. Everyone else can expect to have a goofy grin on their faces for its entire two hours and 10 minutes.
The plot, such as it is, concerns King Arthur’s (Joseph Cannon) quest to round up a group of knights and find the Holy Grail. For reasons that defy explanation, their journey brings them in contact with vivacious cheerleaders, Vegas-style showgirls, frumpy old women who strangely resemble men in drag, a catapulted cow, and a killer rabbit. At regular intervals, one character or another will break into songs that parody the conventions of the Broadway musical, including the spot-on generic love ballad “The Song That Goes Like This.”
Watching moments from half-remembered comedy bits come to three-dimensional life is clearly part of the show’s appeal, at least for Monty Python fans. But creator Eric Idle (a member of the original troupe) and original director Mike Nichols were wise enough to keep them short and fragmentary — just enough to tickle the diehards without boring novices.
PCPA’s staging, created by director Michael Barnard, musical director Callum Morris, and choreographer Michael Jenkinson, occasionally feels a little rough around the edges, but it suits the material. Crucially, the actors have a good feel for just how far they can push without going completely over the top. Erik Stein, as Sir Lancelot (among other roles), is particularly vivid; his transformation in the final scenes, which can’t be described without spoiling one of the few plot surprises, is a wonder to behold. Also fantastic is Karin Hendricks as the Lady of the Lake, who hilariously morphs from mythical creature to jazz chanteuse to indignant diva.