Street Theatre's Spamalot is an entertaining romp 

Idle Worship

Idle Worship

click to enlarge Spamalot
  • Spamalot
It's pretty tough not to like Spamalot, the musical comedy based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's mostly Python member Eric Idle's handiwork — he's responsible for the book and lyrics and also co-wrote the score along with John Du Prez. In fact, Idle's accomplishment is on par with Mel Brooks' success with the stage version of The Producers. Furthermore, the two shows share a similar satirical spirit and joking irreverence.

And like The Producers, Spamalot was conceived with a grand Broadway production in mind, so Street Theatre Company's mounting, staged in a much smaller venue with a cast half the usual size, faces significant challenges. Happily, Martha Wilkinson's go-for-broke direction carries the day, and there are plenty of well-timed and feyly delivered bits that push along Idle's potted retelling of the saga of King Arthur's legendary quest.

Of course, medieval times call for knights-errant (of the Round Table variety), and Brad Oxnam delivers an amusingly earnest portrayal of the egomaniacal Arthur. Others in the male-dominated ensemble of 14 — including Tyson Laemmel, J. Dietz Osborne and Matt Smith and less-familiar STC faces Steven Kraski and Brett Myers — also provide solid performances.

Ever-classy Nancy Allen is accorded the juicy role of the Lady of the Lake, and she doesn't disappoint as the self-absorbed diva, lending her impressive singing chops to duets ("The Song That Goes Like This," "Twice in Every Show") and group numbers ("Come With Me," "Find Your Grail"), then bringing down the house with the delightfully silly solo "Whatever Happened to My Part?"

The "chorus" of dancing girls contributes a great deal of admirable work, especially considering there are only three of them: Melissa Husebo, Mallory Mundy and Madeline Thomas sing and hoof with unflagging energy and tongues firmly in cheek, and like everyone else in this cast, even move scenery and props with speed and precision.

Granted, an evening full of this much spoofery — targets include Finland, the French, Sondheim, signature Streisand songs and men in drag — risks an exhaustion factor, and Idle's cleverness flags occasionally in Act 2. But Wilkinson locates a few antidotes for that, including one major surprise cameo. (No spoilers, please!) And there's always a jaunty, laugh-filled tune waiting to be savored, including "I Am Not Dead Yet," "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," a perennial Python "grin and bear it" favorite originally introduced in the 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The entire production is well-grounded via musical director Rollie Mains' fluid interpretation of the parody-rich score and Holly Shepherd's lively choreography, which definitely elevates the group numbers and features some solid tap-dancing.

This Spamalot is an entertaining romp, and it's especially recommended for theatergoers new to the show.

Cake and/or death

click to enlarge Cake or Death
  • Cake or Death

Halloween night was very windy and spooky, appropriate weather for the opening performance of Kirk-Burgess Productions' Cake or Death, a play first produced at Wilson County's Encore Theatre Company several seasons ago.

Local playwrights Elizabeth Hayes and Anne-Geri' Fann have concocted a whimsical whodunit that relies more on character, innuendo and cultural references than it does on deft plotting. The setting is 1999 Los Angeles, where a woman moves into an apartment haunted by a pair of bickering ghosts, then encounters serious problems with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, her gay policeman pal and friendly landlord enter to buoy her spirits (as it were). We get plentiful references to Shakespeare and The Wizard of Oz (and other movies), plus there are tarot cards and a crystal ball and strange coincidences designed to keep the audience guessing. The story loses steam, however, and most of Act 2 marks time to the lighthearted conclusion.

The performances range from agreeable (Memory Strong, Courtney Taylor) to somewhat over-the-top (Francine Berk-Graver, Del Ray Zimmerman) to divertingly quirky (John Silvestro, Patrick Goedicke). Fact is, L.T. Kirk's direction doesn't noticeably improve what seems to lie flatly on the printed page. The play continues at the Darkhorse Theater through Nov. 9.

Weir for David

Tennessee Repertory Theatre announced last Friday that proceeds from this weekend's REPaloud staged reading of Conor McPherson's The Weir will go to help defray health care costs for David Compton, the popular Nashville actor who suffered a heart attack last week.

Compton was originally scheduled to participate in the reading of the Olivier Award-winning Irish drama, first produced in London in 1997, then on Broadway 1999. It has since been performed in other parts of Europe, Canada and the U.S. to great acclaim.

The setting of McPherson's haunting script is a remote pub in Ireland, where a young lady becomes spellbound by ghostly stories related by the locals, then reveals a startling tale of her own. Nate Eppler directs the reading, and the cast features Jenny Littleton, Samuel Whited, Patrick Waller, Matthew Carlton and Brian Webb Russell.

The reading is 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, through Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Rep's rehearsal hall at Nashville Public Television's Studio A.

Compton, meanwhile, has been showing strong signs of improvement, and the mood among his many friends and the theater community has moved from somber to solidly optimistic.




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