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Seeking the Holy Grail

Theater Review: "Spamalot" at Geva 

Seeking the Holy Grail

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is officially over the hill. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the cult classic film, and Geva Theatre Center opens its 2015-16 season with a tip o' the hat in the form of "Monty Python's Spamalot," best described as "lovingly ripped off from the motion picture."

The production opened on Broadway in 2005 with Tim Curry in the role of King Arthur. Original BBC "Monty Python" cast member Eric Idle developed the book, lyrics, and music, with additional music by John Du Prez (who also composed for the film "Monty Python's Life of Brian"). The show was an instant hit, garnering 14 Tony award nominations and winning three, including for best musical.

It's a well-known fact that nothing is sacred in the world of Monty Python, and that goes for plot lines, too. Diehard fans of the Arthurian legend-based film may notice some big changes throughout the musical adaptation. But many of the beloved, overused lines are preserved -- "I fart in your general direction," "It's just a flesh wound," "Bring out yer dead" -- which Geva's sold-out opening night audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy, anticipating and even quoting some of the lines along with the characters.

Geva favorite Melissa Rain Anderson -- who also directed Geva's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and appeared in last year's "A Christmas Carol" as Mrs. Cratchitt -- expertly directs "Spamalot." Anderson's direction is conscious of the physicality and timing needed for the quirky production to work, and she collaborates well with musical director Nolan Bonvouloir. Leading the multi-talented cast as King Arthur is Tony nominee Hunter Foster (Broadway's "King David," "Les Miserables," "The Producers"). Foster's stature, comedic timing and deadpan reactions make him a natural fit for the role. Rochester-born actor Jennifer Cody returns to Geva for the third season in a row -- she previously played Gwendolyn Pigeon in "The Odd Couple" and Mary in "Women in Jeopardy!" -- this time as Arthur's sidekick, Patsy, opposite Foster (her real-life husband). Though Patsy is usually played by a man (original Python Terry Gilliam played the part in the film), Cody shines in this role. She is always prepared with a sarcastic reaction, her adorable, high-pitched vocals soar and her out-of-nowhere tap dancing skills nearly brought the house down.

Another familiar face, Jim Poulos (Sir Robin), appears in the cast as well. Poulos is husband to Anderson and played Bob Cratchitt in last year's "A Christmas Carol." He is delightful as the cowardly Sir Robin and plays several other small parts throughout the show. Because it is such a silly, physical show, "Monty Python's Spamalot" isn't expected to impress with stunning vocal feats. However, Ashley Dawn Mortensen (Lady of the Lake), the "leading lady" parody in the show, has a powerful set of pipes that ranges in tone from jazzy to sardonic and seductive.

The entire cast impresses in flashy song-and-dance numbers like "Knights of the Round Table" and "His Name is Lancelot."

The set design by James Morgan has a cartoon feel (a nod to the illustrated interludes in the original "Monty Python" TV show) and resembles a pop-up storybook with its two-dimensional doors, suspended clouds and "expensive" trees. Susan Branch Towne's costume design is vivid and inventive, yet cliché in appearance, adding to the tongue-in-cheek nature of the show.

While "Monty Python's Spamalot" is not a show that necessarily sets the tone for Geva's 2015-16 season -- it's not a risky, new, or classic production -- it is a crowd-pleasing choice for the opener and may bring in audience members who wouldn't otherwise buy a ticket.

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