“I Fart in your General Direction”
Note: Spamalot has been extended until November 12, 2023.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Here is how I would sum up opening night of Spamalot at Stratford Festival: Wow, did it ever feel good to laugh. And there were many, many laugh-out-loud moments.
Don’t tell me you’re not going because you’re not a Monty Python fan. Do you like to laugh? Then go. Yes, much of the humour is just plain silly, but some of it is very good satire, too. Spamalot actually reminds me of the humour used by Wayne and Shuster way back when they had their comedy show on CBC TV. (Note: I was a mere child.) They would poke fun at a piece of literature (often Shakespeare) or an era, or anything else, making what might have been a serious topic very silly.
Spamalot takes us back to the Middle Ages and then mocks history. It all begins with a historian who gives us a run-down on what’s happened in England, much like a weatherman. The report is followed by entertainment: A bunch of Scandinavian dancers slapping each other with fish. Oops! They thought the historian/narrator said Finland, not England.
Another scene covers the great plague. A cart comes around to carry away the dead. As we struggle to see the end of a pandemic, it is so much fun to laugh at this, as irreverent as it sounds.
We meet King Arthur who is travelling about the country collecting knights to sit at his very, very round table. Arthur is lacking a horse, but his faithful servant Patsy fakes being a horse with two halves of a coconut shell, clapping them together for the appropriate horse-hoof galloping sound. They are told by God that She wants them to go on a quest for the holy grail. From there, it gets crazier. They have all kinds of hilarious, silly encounters, and unless you’re made of stone, you’ll be laughing throughout.
A cast of comedic greats has been assembled. Jonathan Goad as King Arthur tries to be a leader and fails all along the journey. You would think the French taunting would do him in, but Arthur and Patsy carry on. It’s difficult now to think of Goad as the serious Atticus Finch or the double-crossing Brutus. His understated comedy is perfect.
As Arthur’s sidekick, Patsy, Eddie Glen shows his flawless comedic timing, something I have had the pleasure of seeing on many stages in the past. Glen never fails to get the laughs, even with just a turn of his head. When he gets his hands on a silly script like Spamalot he knows exactly what to do with it. Glen is hilarious when Goad sings “I’m all alone”: the two have perfect comedic chemistry.
Stratford favourite Jennifer Rider-Shaw owns the stage as the Lady of the Lake. Remember when she was little Peggy in 42nd Street? Or Sally in Tommy, whipping across the stage on her motor-scooter? Or Josephine in HMS Pinafore? Or Janet in the Rocky Horror Show? Or Velma in Chicago? Yes, she was absolutely excellent in all those shows (and I’m probably forgetting other great roles). But as the Lady of the Lake she is unequivocally outstanding. In Chicago last year, she demonstrated her dance talent. In Spamalot, she shows us her astounding vocal range, belting, scatting, and even offering a taste of opera. She sings “The Song That Goes Like This” with the handsome Sir Dennis Galahad, played perfectly by Liam Tobin. The two of them trying to handle the key changes is hilarious. Later, Rider-Shaw gives us the perfect diva belting “Whatever Happened To My Part?”
Rider-Shaw has one more surprise for the audience. When the Lady of the Lake comes out in her wedding dress to marry King Arthur, she is obviously pregnant. The scene is reminiscent of Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl when she refused to play a beautiful bride seriously and put a pillow under her wedding gown, making the scene much funnier with a pregnant bride. But, yes, Rider-Shaw and her husband Robert Markus who is playing Mark Cohen in Rent this season, are expecting a baby who will be born singing! Congrats to both of them!
The entire cast of Spamalot consists of excellent comedic actors who are also strong singers and dancers. This silly show will be a big hit. Is the nonsense of Spamalot worthy of the Stratford Festival’s Avon stage? Yes, because we need to laugh more than ever before. Don’t go seeking a challenge, trying to find the meaning of life in this musical. Just go and laugh ‘til your sides hurt.
Spamalot continues in repertory until October 29 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Lady of the Lake and Jonathan Goad as King Arthur with members of the company in Monty Python’s Spamalot. Photo by David Hou.
Book and lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed by Lezlie Wade
Musical Direction by Laura Burton
Choreography by Jesse Robb
Performed by Jonathan Goad, Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Eddie Glen, et al.
Note: Kimberly-Ann Truong has replaced Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Lady of the Lake.
Ms. Rider-Shaw is taking maternity leave, and we send her and her husband Robert Markus our best wishes.
Avon Theatre, Stratford
May 31 to October 28, 2023 Extended to November 12, 2023.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson