Corn Stock Theatre
By Marty Lynch
School is back in session and football is coming soon to kick off autumn, but summer is still going strong at Corn Stock Theatre, where Monty Python’s Spamalot, the summer season’s last show opened last Friday.
The silliness of Monty Python always seems to bring out giddiness in crowds. I never saw so many people chatting before a show as I did before this one. Monty Python has been around longer than I have, and they practically taught me what silly was. Take a natural setup, twist it on an absurd premise, and do everything you can to avoid taking the next logical step. I have always known that this musical was not an exact replica of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I have avoided reading it or listening to it because I knew this was an ephemeral piece, even for theatre. The title is Monty Python’s Spamalot, but it might as well be the Monty Python Experience.
Of course the original film does provide the foundation of the plot, which takes its foundation from the legend of Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail. In order to assuage any fear that this is just a film with musical numbers tossed in without care, the show starts with an irreverent new take on cell phones and recording, then breaks into a song involving slapping one another with fish. It’s the perfect exposition for this show. You will find original work from original Monty Python cast member Eric Idle throughout (he is, after all, the author and co-composer) as well as new songs, new sketches, and old sketches from other classics that are just worth keeping. If you love Monty Python you will love this show, and if people have told you that you would like Monty Python, this is the place to start. You will also find that the infamous ending to the film has now been transformed into an equally irreverent yet deeply satisfying conclusion.
Director Tim Wyman has plenty to do with the high quality of this production, and he is careful to point out that “the unsung heroes…are the technicians and designers.” I completely agree, but his crowning achievement is in the casting he has done. First, he brought in Eric Ewan as King Arthur, a terrific stage actor with a wonderful presence. Mr. Wyman then surrounds him with a number of strong actors as his knights: Eddie Urish as Sir Robin, Tim Drew as Sir Lancelot, Lee Wenger as Sir Galahad, and Mark Bircher as Sir Bedevere. There is also Karl Augspurger as Patsy, Arthur’s most loyal companion. Each individual gets a moment to shine through, whether it’s a scene or a song or a collection of gags. Only one woman gets a title in this show, but Carmen McCarthy brings the Lady of the Lake to life with her incredible voice. I have only seen her in Joseph before this, but I can’t wait to see more.
Mr. Wyman also has a terrific ensemble keying the essential bit characters in every scene. Their energy is unflagging even when the script begins to drag and pitch-perfect when the lines are in their full silliness. The script does have moments where it is uneven, but the fresh new work seamlessly blends into the classic stuff without appearing to have lost that original spark. Without the hard work and the incredible number of quick changes of over a dozen performers, the show could not have flown so high. I have long been a champion of live orchestras over canned music, but I get why they had to do it this time. Robin Hunt is probably the unsung heroine of the company, as she has taken familiar faces to new levels of dancing I have never seen from them before. When a scene is cheesy or if a prop malfunctions, it actually becomes a part of the gag, so even a scene gone wrong works well in this show. The truth is sometimes it’s hard to tell when a scene has gone higgledy-piggledy by mistake or by careful planning, and what’s wrong with that? When you see this show you will enjoy a hearty laugh; I guarantee it.
Spamalot runs through August 30. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students ages 18 & under and are available at the Corn Stock Box Office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com
• Showtime was 2:04 with intermission, a standing ovation, and a musical encore, and probably rated a borderline PG-13/R for language. Most of it is under the breath or shouted in crowd scenes anyway.
• Best Peasant Award went to the sweetest man possible. I wish I had caught his name. Bill something, you were terrific.
• There were several moments when the cast bore an uncanny resemblance to the original film characters.
• I ran into a fellow board member of the Illinois Theatre Association at the show. Peoria theatre is on the map!
• I can’t name the ensemble in the review, but I have plenty of room here: Aaron Elwell (listed as cast but I ran out of space), Sydney Abdnour, Nora Drew, Shawn Foote, Kerri Rae Hinman, Tanner Smith, Tyler Smith, Chloe Van Slyke, Sarah Willi, Jerrod Barth, Steve Haines, Andrew Harlan, Joshua Jones (go Racers!), Rob Matthews, Nick McCumber, Joshua Rodriquez-Nieuer (one day Dr. Rodriquez-Nieuer), and Erik Smith. Well done, everyone.
• There are three show-stopping songs in a row in Act 1. Three. The show would have been under two hours if there hadn’t been so much applause.
• How many costumes did each woman have? 30?
• Once I was able to use the word testudinate in a review, and now I have higgledy-piggledy. This is a great gig.
• At one point Eric Ewan’s mic went dead and he never missed a beat. The audience stayed with him the whole time. That is how a good actor projects; he uses the mic as an aid instead of a crutch.
• Thanks to the Morton Civic Chorus for ushering me to my seat.
Posted August 25, 2014