Theater Review: SPAMALOT (Mercury Theater Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 9, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


It’s at least a chuckle a minute. Half the hilarity is verbal sallies, half sight gags. This cheeky, subversive, and unashamedly sidesplitting Spamalot, described in the press release as “ridiculous men in tight pants,” is a labor of laughter. Its irreverence feels contagious, its target-shooting flawless. Nothing is spared its satire as it punctures pomposity and slaughters sacred cows. Medieval mockery is just so 2019.

What worked fifteen years ago on Broadway delivers its silly splendor again in L. Walter Stearns’ devilishly clever revival at Mercury Theatre. In the spirit of Benny Hill, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Forbidden Broadway, the Monty Pythons, whether in film or on TV, “cocked a snoot” at underexamined cultural icons, turning a government ministry into a school for silly walks, reducing the Spanish Inquisition to a grade school pageant, and comparing more than contrasting Jesus Christ with a goofball named Brian. They specialized in idiotic quibbles that can dance on the head of a pin.

In Spamalot they target the loftily literary Arthurian legends of Sir Thomas Malory, Alfred Lord Tennyson and T.H White. Also spoofed are xenophobic British history (where Frenchmen are always flatulent fools), showbiz clichés about Jews, gays and empty showstoppers, tap-dancing Las Vegas revues, and even the very human quest for meaning that animates King Arthur’s round table and the knights’ search for the Holy Grail (just one of a hundred flippant props).

Encountering gut-busting and anachronistic props and puns, the slap-happy warriors led by Jonah Winston’s bumptious once and future king include showbiz-crazy Sir Robin (Adam Ross Brody), closeted Sir Lancelot (Karl Hamilton), and valiant twerps and twits Sir Galahad and Sir Bedevere (David Sajewich and Dan Smeriglio). Along the rollicking road the band, trotting about on sound-effect horses, encounter a self-effacing squire (Greg Foster), the diva-like Lady of the Lake (Meghan Murphy, a shameless scene-stealer) who demands a bigger part and is backed up by her cheerleading Laker Girls, a plague-ridden serf who insists he’s “not dead yet” (Adam Fane), a poofter prince locked in a tower (Fane), taunting French guards, socialist peasants, the very irritating Knights of Ni, a “Trojan Rabbit” as well as a real killer rodent, and, in a wicked surprise, the Grail itself hidden in plain sight as a theater patron is promoted to “best peasant.”

Indeed, the only thing that slows down this uproarious Spamalot is not the pace but the audience’s manic merriment, their constant chortles threatening to drown out the one-liners. Just holding for the screaming laughs of the opening-night claque must have consumed ten minutes. (It should only be five for the rest of the run…)

Music director Eugene Dizon treats every wacky number with just enough stupefying sincerity to make them soar. Pizzazz-packed dances, exuberantly shaped by Shanna VanderWerker, convulsed the crowd with a wizard fusion of hypersilly spontaneity and astonishing precision.

Stearns’ hot-to-trot, eager-beaver and carnivorously comic staging takes the sometimes sassily sophomoric Spamalot back to Monty Python’s “take no prisoners” spoofery, where every gag, sight or sound is grist for a very merry mill. My favorite is the flying cow.

Seldom has humanity’s pursuit of renegade phantoms by vaulting vanity been so perfectly pictured, while its darker currents are ingeniously sugar-coated with such sardonic but feel-good anthems as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (the perfect antidote to mindless optimism), “The Song That Goes Like This” (a cure for the bloviating pretentions of the power ballads of Lord Webber and Les Miz), and “Find Your Grail” (a feel-good anthem that manages to mean everything and nothing). Who needs Merlin?

photos by Brett Beiner

Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 North Southport
Wed – Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 3
ends on to November 3, 2019 EXTENDED to December 29, 2019
for tickets, call 773.325.1700 or visit Mercury Theater

for more shows, visit  Theatre in Chicago

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