MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT
DIRECTOR AND SET DESIGNER: Simon James
MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Roelof Colyn
CAST: Norman Anstey, Michelle Botha, Bongi Mthombeni, Adrian Poulsen, Liam J Stratton, Grant Towers, L J Urbani, Clive Gibson
VENUE: Nelson Mandela, Joburg Theatre
UNTIL: August 10
MONTY Python is alive and well and this time living in a musical. Spamalot, which had reasonable success all over the world, has at last reached us. It is, as the posters inform, “the hit musical lovingly ripped off from the 1974 motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John du Prez and Eric Idle”.
True to the Monty Python ethos, some sections of the musical are brilliant, uproariously funny and sporadically even enchanting, while others consist of visual buffooneries and verbal rigmaroles piled on top of each other, with little attention to some intelligent timing or structure. They just look inane and really have little in common with the well-made revue sketch.
Luckily, the music often has lots of charm and atmosphere, while Du Prez and Idle most of the time have the knack to imitate, or subtly send up, a musical style of yonder which, if not totally original, can at least let your feet tap, like in the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life sung by Patsy, King Arthur and the ensemble.
The story boils down to the well-known legend: King Arthur who extracted Excalibur, the magic sword, from the stone, and his knights are in search of the Holy Grail.
The knights are hand-picked and have to forsake their chorus line can-can dancing at Camelot for a higher calling. This medieval crusade will take them to legendary places, including a very boisterously enacted confronta-tion with the French.
The ambience of those times is caught fluently on stage because of a well thought out visual sense, enhanced by Simon James’ sets and Bronwen Lovegrove’s often original and colourful task of co-ordinating costumes in their dozens.
Lots of freedom has been taken in the presentation of the story. One example will suffice. The role of the Lady of the Lake (Guinevere) is far more prominent from early on in this musical, since, as with all of them, it is essential to have a strong female lead. This role fits the exceptionally rich talent and stage presence of Michelle Botha like a glove. From her early Come With Me right up to the final Camelot scene, she oozes a sultry, strong character, with a vocal style and range which is stirring.
Perhaps the most riveting of her songs is The Diva’s Lament, also known as What Happened to My Part? in which she let go like a real diva should. She impressively combines her highly adaptable acting talents with her darkish, sonorous voice characterised by a prominent but attractive vibrato.
One wished for a more vivid portrayal of King Arthur. Norman Anstey is fine, even professional, but a bit bland. He was often overshadowed by his sidekick, Patsy. Bongi Mthombeni made this role his own through his excellent comic timing and perfect use of his voice and body.
Other stalwarts were LJ Urbani, Adrian Poulsen, Liam J Stratton, Grant Towers and Grant Gibson – all in multiple roles.
This musical as a whole needed more oomph to be in the class of one that has the potential to be an international hit. In this production the extended longueurs of Act II became dreary. The spark of energy often waned, while at this stage in the proceedings the one-liners, however funny and inventive as some of them might be, did not communicate as they should.
As musicals in an old-fashioned mode go, this one was in excellent hands, with Roelof Colyn leading the singers and musicians more than just efficiently – especially in the tricky ensemble songs, as well as with the dance sequences which were choreographed more with style than originality in mind by Timothy le Roux.