Quite a spectacle

Monty Python: ‘Not Dead Yet’

photo courtesy of spamalot

Monty Python’s Spamalot, presented by Chico Performances, Thursday, Jan. 27, at Laxson Auditorium.

King Arthur and his delightfully demented Knights of the Round Table held court in spectacular fashion last Thursday in a production that took the effort of nearly 100 people to pull off. And that’s just counting the sets and lighting.

The sold-out satirical stage show Spamalot was brought to town by a national touring troupe that transformed Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium into a scene from the Middle Ages. The play, based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was penned by one of the Monty Python originators, Eric Idle, and opened on Broadway in 2005 before going on tour.

Spamalot wowed the diverse Laxson audience with all the glitz, grandeur, plumage and technical complexity of a Las Vegas show, all wrapped up with the comedic satire, blasphemy, plays on words and shovel-to-the-noggin humor befitting of Monty Python. In addition, the presence of live keyboards and horn players performing in Laxson’s usually covered orchestra pit added another dimension of quality to the show.

Like the film on which Spamalot was based, the flexibly followed plot, presented in a seamless and pleasing parade of skits and songs, centers on the search for the Holy Grail. Along the way, King Arthur and his sidekick sirs, Lancelot, Galahad, Belvedere and Robin, along with the Lady of the Lake, encounter all sorts of smart-alecky friends and foes.

The skits and songs had many in the crowd revisiting fond memories, but even those with little Monty Python heritage were kept in stitches during the fast-paced two-hour, two-set show.

Spamalot includes such favorite skits as The Killer Rabbit, the French Taunters, a quick flash of Spam, and The Feet of God (a 1,700-pound prop that, by the way, filled the stage’s colossal proscenium arch). Many fabled songs were also there, presented in flamboyant fashion, including “I Am Not Dead Yet,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” “Knights of the Round Table” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Some very modern ingredients were present as well, including brief references to Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Michael Moore.

Applause and cheers came each time a familiar character appeared or a skit or a song started, and returned with greater gusto at the end of each scene.

None of the original Monty Python troupe was present, and the cast did not include folks like Hank Azaria, Tim Curry or David Hyde Pierce, who performed in the 2005 Broadway version. But the central characters were all outstanding, with nary a weak link in the bunch.

In the end, it was Caroline Bowman’s resurrection of the Lady of the Lake role that packed the most punch. Flourishing in the comedic nature of all of her songs, the sheer power and perfect pitch of Bowman’s vocals commanded the biggest reaction from the audience.

In terms of logistics, the show was a collaborative effort that wound up being one of the most ambitious Laxson productions ever. In addition to the full University Public Events (UPE) crew and the dozens of souls from the touring company that came to Chico along with three semi trucks, help came from “a crew from the campus and community that totaled more than 40 to help with the load in and out and the erection of all the scenery, lights and sound requirements,” said UPE Director Dan DeWayne. “All totaled, it took a village of about 100 people to pull off the production.”

Judging by the audience’s reception, it was well worth the effort.