Despite obstacles more threatening than a killer bunny, The Muny managed to open its 95th season Monday night with a rollicking performance of “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
The troubles began that afternoon when thunderstorms swept through the area. For the St. Louis-impaired, The Muny is an outdoor theater and susceptible to the elements. So far I have been lucky in that I’ve never sat through a Muny performance in the rain. I’ve been told it’s not a pleasant experience.
Three days of scattered showers had made outdoor rehearsals a challenge and the show was a few minutes late in starting as the technical crew worked to get the giant video screen up to speed. Eventually they settled with an image with some spots blacked out. It wasn’t a terrible distraction and hopefully it’s fixed by now.
In spite of these problems, by 8 p.m. the clouds had parted and the rain had stopped. It was even unseasonably mild in the venue (if a little damp), meaning the new fans that had been bought to cool the audience did not need to be turned on.
After a few opening words by Muny executive producer Mike Isaacson (complete with smart-aleck commentary from the screen behind him), King Arthur and his patsy came galloping across the stage. If the cast, crew or musicians were unprepared for the big night they certainly didn’t show it.
Based on the classic movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Spamalot” offers an absurd and very silly telling of the tale of Arthur, King of the Britons, and his Knights of the Round Table as they seek — on order from God (voiced by Bob Costas) — the Holy Grail.
“Spamalot” repeats many of the familiar bits from the film while adding a running spoof of musical theater. A new character — The Lady of the Lake (Michele Ragusa) — has been added because every musical needs a diva and so the show can have a love interest — essential when you need to do “The Song That Goes Like This.”
John O’Hurley, probably best know for the role of J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” is the perfect choice to play King Arthur. His commanding voice and strong stage presence were compelling. The rest of the cast performed admirably, some in multiple roles.
Director and choreographer Denis Jones remains faithful to the original show while still managing to slip in some topical humor and St. Louis-specific jokes. Like all Muny productions that I’ve seen, the sets and costumes are colorful and delightful. I especially liked turning the Knights of Ni into a bunch of bearded munchkins with an exceptionally tall leader. The musicians sounded perfect and there are several sharp, well choreographed dance numbers.
When the opening night performance was over the audience was given a special treat. Monty Python’s own Eric Idle, the man most responsible for transferring the film onto the stage, came out to say a few words and lead the crowd in a rousing sing along of “Always Look On The Bright Side.”
Good advice, and a great way to cap off a fun evening.
Monty Python’s Spamalot runs through June 23. http://muny.org/