It’s a backhanded compliment, but one sign of a theater company’s strength is when it can succeed with lackluster material. Consider how far MNM Productions has come in its three years of existence – it now manages to almost hide the deficiencies in the flimsy comic romp, Monty Python’s Spamalot, now playing at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse through June 4.
Yes, the stage show self-described as “lovingly ripped off” from the cult classic movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail did win the best Musical Tony Award in 2005. Even so, it is a disjointed cut-and-paste job, adapted all too faithfully from the big screen, dependent on the audience’s affection for the anarchic British comedy team that first became a sensation on this side of the pond in the 1970s.
Fortunately, MNM retains the services of director-choreographer Kimberly Dawn Smith, who knows how to build a production number and how to get a largely dance-challenged ensemble moving with enthusiasm and verve. She has a good eye for casting as well, with standout performers from Johnbarry Green to Andrew Shultz to the always welcome Laura Hodos all making their MNM debuts in Spamalot. If only the material they are working hard to levitate were better than it is.
As fans of the movie know, the plot concerns King Arthur’s quest for a holy chalice, which takes him on an episodic journey of encounters with a rude French sentry, a killer bunny rabbit, a warrior who fights on even though his limbs get lopped off and a handful of knights whose only distinguishing characteristic is that they say, “Ni.” If you are devoted to the film, the very mention of these characters probably has you guffawing. All others are likely to be less enthralled.
The show’s silly book, simplistic lyrics and music are by original Python member Eric Idle (with an assist on the music from John Du Prez). He does have some funny ideas for songs, like the faux-Lloyd Webber over the top, repetitive “The Song That Goes Like This” and the ethnic formula for show business good fortune, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews).” But do not be surprised if the song you are humming afterwards is that earworm from Life of Brian, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Give Idle credit for expanding the role of The Lady of the Lake, a belting siren with high diva attitude. As played by Hodos, she brings the show to life whenever she is onstage. But as the character herself notes, that is not often enough in the second act.
Green is aptly regal as King Arthur, even as he gallops about hobby horse style, to the sound effect of clopping coconut halves by his trusty – and underappreciated – servant Shultz. Sahid Pabon is a meek Sir Robin for much of the evening, until he connects to his inner Broadway and Mike Westrich eventually moves into the spotlight – a rainbow spotlight – as Sir Galahad.
Paul Reekie leads a smoking seven-piece band and the design elements are first-rate. Leslye Menshouse coordinates the medieval and contemporary wardrobe from Costume World and props masters Casey Blanton and Matthew Tarantino presumably provided the cow that gets catapulted onstage. Lesser stage companies might have cut the cow, but not MNM.
MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT, MNM Productions at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sun., June 4. $45. 561-832-7469.