REVIEW: Spamalot (Drury Lane)

  
  

Drury Lane’s ‘Spamalot’ is a merry night of dancing and singing!

  
  

SPAMALOT--James Earl Jones II, Grant Thomas, Gary Carlson, Matthew Crowle, Brandon Springman and Richard Strimer

   
Drury Lane Theatre presents
  
Spamalot
   
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez
Directed by William Osetek
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oak Brook (map)
through March 6  |  tickets: $31-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Monty Python began as a British comedy group that created the television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ensemble members included Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. The success of the show led to feature films including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which is loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. With its witty and sometimes absurdist humor, Monty Python became a cultural phenomenon and “Holy Grail” was the basis for the musical Spamalot.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo and David KortemeierThe set for Spamalot at Drury Lane Theatre resembles a traditional castle, with a castle gate center stage flanked by large wooden castle doors on other side, surrounded by stone bricks and gated windows. As the show progresses, scene changes are seamless and quick, never disrupting the momentum or action of the show.

Spamalot opens with an historian (Jackson Evans) explaining the history of Britain. He’s initially both relatable and charming, instantly pulling the audience into the action. The story the historian relates then comes to life as King Arthur (David Kortemeier) enters. Arthur is searching for knights for his round table and is traveling throughout England in search of them. He puts together what seems like somewhat of a motley crew consisting of Sir Lancelot (John Sanders), Sir Robin (Adam Pelty), Sir Galahad (Sean Allan Krill) and Sir Bedevere (Bradley Mott).

All of the actors are fully charismatic and bring a ton of characterization to their parts: Robin (Pelty) is sweet and funny with his fear of actual fighting. Galahad (Krill) is charming but not irritating with his pretty boy looks and demeanor. Lancelot (Sanders) is entertaining with his tough boy act to hide his hidden interests and Bedevere (Mott) works well to round out to the cast.

Not only is the acting stellar, but the singing is strong and clear and the music is just fun. Each actor’s range is suited to their character, allowing their singing talents to really shine. This is especially the case with The Lady of the Lake (Gina Milo). Milo’s voice is stunning and powerful, and her ability to hit so many runs in the music is SPAMALOT--John Sanders and Jackson Evanscaptivating. The only minor complaint is that, on occasion, vibratos in the cast are a bit too heavy.

As a show with a triple threat, the dancing is also well choreographed and shows of the dancing talents of the cast. Minus a few missed landings and mishaps, the dancing is quite spectacular, especially Patsy’s tap number (Matthew Crowle) during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” It’s clear that Crowle has a talent for it and he shows it off spectacularly.

Once the crew is assembled, they are given a task directly from God: find the Holy Grail. With this task at hand, the group, led by Arthur, goes in search of the Grail. Encountering various other knights and obstacles, the action flows quickly with a lively energy, pulling our attention towards the stage. The actors play up the comedy, doing well with the laugh lines and the hilarity of the writing.

Spamalot is a fun-filled, hilarious show that fits for anyone who loves Monty Python and the tale of the Holy Grail. Highly recommended!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Spamalot plays at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, IL, through March 6. Tickets are $31 to $45 with lunch/dinner packages ranging from $45.75 to $68. Student and senior prices available. Ticket can be purchased through the box office by calling 630-530-0111.

SPAMALOT--Gina Milo, now at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook

        
        

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REVIEW: The 39 Steps (Broadway in Chicago)

More Monty Python than Alfred Hitchcock

Scott Parkinson, Eric Hissom and Ted Deasy - Photo by Craig Schwartz

   
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
The 39 Steps
 
adapted by Patrick Barlow
directed by Maria Aitken
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe  (map)
through May 30th  |  tickets: $20-$70 |  more info

by Barry Eitel

Let’s get one thing clear: even though Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps has the famed director’s name slapped on the poster, no one should enter the Bank of America Theatre expecting to be psychologically thrilled.

Claire Brownell and Ted Deasy - Photo by Craig SchwartzThe play is closer to Monty Python, featuring the madness of four actors portraying around 100 characters. The insanity has been much appreciated by critics and audiences around the world, carting away Tony and Olivier awards for the original West End and Broadway productions. All that success has earned the play a national  tour, with Chicago among the list of stops. Whacky, extremely energetic, and, much of the time, pretty stupid, Barlow’s creation exudes a wonderful sense of play that keeps us engaged and entertained. Not that there aren’t a few kinks with the touring production (especially the dragging first few scenes), but the madcap concept and over-the-top execution keeps us smirking.

The play follows the film’s plot pretty closely, but the tone is sharply different. We journey alongside Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy), an ordinary man pushed into international espionage. The 39 Steps milks all sorts of comedic gold from lampooning the “man-on-the-run” archetype. Cops are bumbling, the Germans talk really funny, and the action-packed final scene features plenty of popping guns. With four actors playing scores of random characters, the play also lays bare the relative ridiculousness of the original movie and novel.

Helmed by director Maria Aitken, the show features very little of the elaborate scenery we’ve come to expect from these Broadway imports. Instead, the committed cast paints the world on a sparsely-filled stage. Scenes fall on top of each other at breakneck pace, with some props doubling as completely different things to keep up the speed. A hotel fireplace becomes a car, for example. Aitken also slips in some interesting expressionistic touches, such as Hannay’s harrowing stroll on top of a moving train. A crucial part of the movie but sort of impossible to do in a theatre, the stage version does some interesting visual trickery to recreate the grand escape. Then there is the giant shadow-puppet show that brings to mind scenes from “North by Northwest”. You don’t really expect a whole lot of theatricality from a farce, so it’s a pleasant surprise when it turns up.

In order for the wheels of this show to really turn, though, it demands huge, perpetual amounts of energy from the actors. Fortunately, the cast here taps into a vast reservoir of goofiness. The best performances of the play come from the two men forced to play dozens of characters of all backgrounds, occupations, and genders. Scott Parkinson and Eric Hissom, who has a history with Chicago theatre, are the real heroes of the play. They are both masters of the lightning-fast quick change. Sometimes, they must portray two characters in the same scene, and, sometimes, they even have to have dialogue with themselves. I would posit that about three-quarters of the laughs emanate from the two men’s exasperated antics.

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Scott Parkinson and Eric Hissom - Photo by Craig Schwartz The Cast of "The 39 Steps" - photo by Craig Schwartz

Although less funny, pretty good work comes from Deasy and Claire Brownell, who plays all three of his love interests (the spy that tosses Hannay into this mess, a lonely Scottish housewife, and a “stranger on a train”). Neither is as bold as Parkinson or Hissom, but there is also less material for them to work with. Both rely on charming the audience, and both succeed for the most part.

The production is plagued by a lack of focus in some parts. This is especially true for the first few scenes, which aren’t nearly as laugh-packed as the rest of the play. Also, all of the performers are guilty of pushing certain bits too hard and too long, stalling the zipping energy of the piece.

It was a bold move to write up a spoof of Hitchcock’s film, not just because of the original’s acclaim, but because the movie is 75-years-old. However, Barlow’s risk paid off in laughs and awards. This is due to the ferocious energy of the cast and story, and the touring cast knows this well.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

The Cast of "The 39 Steps" - photo by Craig Schwartz