ORLANDO — When the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was released in cinemas in 1975, the British comedy troup’s highly irreverent style seemed fresh, original and quite innovative.
The parody of the legend of King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail contained a broad range of comedic styles — visual gags, slapstick, puns – but more importantly, it offered up few if any sacred cows, mocking religion, class warfare, bravery (or lack therefore) among soldiers, and had gags about the Black Plague, dismemberment and bloody killer rabbits, to name just a few.
A generation brought up on the light comedy of “The Brady Bunch” or the topical comedy of “All In The Family” on TV likely found Monty Python to be either a hilarious innovation – or something that left them shaking their heads, saying “Huh?”
One of the Monty Python writers/performers, Eric Idle, took the basic idea of this movie and helped turn it into a musical comedy aimed at Broadway, “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” This musical parody of the Arthurian Legend debuted on Broadway in 2005 and won several Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.
Now, a decade later, the show has made its way to the Orlando Shakespeare Theater for a production that runs through Oct. 11.
An interesting question for this production is this: considering that Monty Python’s irreverent style seemed so fresh in 1975, but has spawned scores and scores of imitators in the decades since, how does a musical theater version of the movie hold up?
Considering that it has virtually no real plot, meanders from one silly skit to the next, and displays no shame about being hopelessly goofy, the answer is obvious.
Yes. Big, big time.
Vaudeville lives, and happily so, through this charmingly zany production that uses a high energy cast of comedic talent, some first-rate songs, a dash of dazzling choreography here and there, and a fondness for crude and tasteless humor. There’s so much to enjoy that it’s definitely hard to find much to dislike here.
This is the play for anyone who secretly loathes the idea of being dragged to a three-hour somber European drama instead.
David Gaines is another definite reason to see the production, since he makes a spectacularly good lead as King Arthur, who travels across the countryside with his servant Patsy to recruit Knights to the Round Table to join him in Camelot. As just about the only character who isn’t as dumb as a wooden post, Gaines has to spend a considerable amount of stage time suffering fools gladly, which he does with great comedic skill.
Along the way, he and his men try to get into a French castle guarded by rude and snide soldiers, meet the Lady of the Lake, have some gory swordfights, decide to stage the first ever Broadway show (assuming they can find the much-needed ingredient – Jews!) and tackle a vicious man-eating rabbit.
Arthur’s trusted aid Sir Lancelot receives a letter from a young damsel in distress, and is himself distressed when he gets to the castle and finds the young lady is a he.
Meanwhile, faith, religion, poverty, hunger and disease, Jews, gays, the French, the British and many, many more topics get skewered as only the Python gang can deliver.
The Shakes team has a lot of fun with this one, and does an exceptional job staging some of the splashy production numbers, including “Find Your Grail,” “Whatever Happened to My Part,” and the showstopper “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
If much of theater explores our inner angst, the emotional turmoil that makes it difficult for so many to achieve full happiness, “Spamalot” is the anti- all of that, a play that will leave you feeling upbeat and cheerful. It targets the inner child in all of us, brilliantly.
“Monty Python’s Spamalot” is at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. in Orlando. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $15-60. Call 407-447-1700 for reservations.
Michael Freeman in an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.. >.