It feels weird to write this in a review context, but…it does kind of go without saying. It’s perfectly in line with expectations that Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage: Monty Python’s Spamalot has wonderful music, fantastic costumes, splendid acting and singing, stunning choreography and direction, and gorgeous sets, sound, projections, and lighting. Everything is of the caliber one would expect from the kind of team they assembled for this production. But, heck it, I’ll write a few paragraphs to give everyone the full picture.
This over-the-top Middle Ages musical runs only through Sunday, May 21. For such a limited run at The Kennedy Center, this show should be sold out. It isn’t yet — but tickets for many performances are running low. So if you’ve got the availability and means, stop reading now and just go find your seats. I’ll wait.
Ok, cool, hope you got some good ones. One of the funny things about this production is that it fits right in with the current obsession society has for remakes and revivals. The need for well-written musicals is real — and I’m sure when Eric Idle sat down to pen Monty Python’s Spamalot (with John Du Prez alongside on music), he was more than a little pumped that most of the book was already heavily audience-tested and proven. Monty Python and the Holy Grail has had a hold on comedy fans for almost 50 years, and audience members of all ages love it. That’s so rare, I can’t even think of a comparison. OK, maybe Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
Of course, fans can expect to see their favorite Monty Python gags (including some from the TV shows, like the fish-slapping dance) along with most scenes from the film, and some great Terry Gilliam–esque illustrations. Easter eggs abound, but keep your head on a swivel to catch them all. Director and Choreographer Josh Rhodes has action happening in every possible space — it’s like peering into a magical kaleidoscope of movement. His direction seems to allow each member of the cast to shine effortlessly, while also bringing ensemble members forward for their own memorably funny moments. With its current pop culture and political references, the piece has that of-the-moment feeling that it’s constantly organically evolving. There’s a West Side Story nod, a Dirty Dancing lift, and lots of scenes get super meta. It’s appealing to all flavors of comedy fans.
Music Directors John Bell and Jay Crowder succeed beautifully in having the orchestra stand next to the actors as its own rich, multifaceted character. Making the conductor float above the set is a good choice — it brings the orchestra into the storyline, and it has the audience constantly watching for the pointed music cues and jokey flourishes. Naturally, the score is punchy and delivered with gusto — and the orchestra covers so many different styles and tempos in this piece. These musicians are clearly at the top of their game.
In regards to the acting and singing, it’s all head-shakingly ridiculous — but since everyone kept mentioning him onstage (and off) all night, we may as well talk about Michael Urie (Sir Robin, Guard 1, Brother Maynard). To keep it short: Okay, he’s truly magnetic, almost mesmerizing. You can tell he’s a real team player, and that the cast appreciates him. And he’s got the goof act down pat. I finally get the hype. I’ve never actually seen Michael in anything — and in his first appearance on stage, he’s all grubbed up and unrecognizable. But, as others in the cast point out, he undeniably grabs attention. And yes, his performance is perfection. As an actor, there are two amazing things that can come about when you’re in a show…everyone loves you, or everyone’s a little bit jealous of you. Having both at once has to be the best feeling in the world.
As a woman in comedy who had some of the best women in comedy to emulate while growing up, it’s hard to find what I’d consider to be a TRUE icon nowadays. Like Lucille Ball–level. Lily Tomlin–level. Carol Burnett–level. And, I hope she will please forgive me if she’s tired of the observation…I’m sure Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer (Lady of the Lake) already knows (especially with the red wig) that she’s a dead ringer for one of the queens of television comedy. But, to my utter delight, Leslie’s character work is so powerfully funny that I now have a whole separate, independent theater crush on her. Her incredible singing voice pushed Carol out of my mind. I waited for her to come back onstage! I was so happy when she came back! I had literal chills as she belted high notes I can’t even name, and had a blast busting a gut at her dang accurate Christina Aguilera impression, with stank faces and all. She’s an icon. I want to see everything she does.
Rob McClure must have been another easy casting choice. It does help to remember his name when he yells out “I’m Rob McClure” during the show. His resemblance to Terry Jones, the original Prince Herbert, is uncanny, and it makes him astoundingly good for that part. He also plays several other adorably sheepish characters, but he’s carrying the most filthy, vicious singing chops on his journey through all of them. I won’t forget you, Rob.
Alex Brightman definitely has all the best character bits. I mean…The French Taunter, The Knight of Ni, and Tim the Enchanter? These are tasty, meaty morsels for an actor, and, dare I say, he makes a meal of them, and leaves no crumbs. And he also has a beautiful, important journey as Sir Lancelot, which I hope you have a chance to see. Alex is a plasma ball of energy on the stage, and his acting, singing, and physical comedy are on point. It’s easy to see why he can fill lead roles.
James Monroe Iglehart seems to be another favorite of the cast. He brings a playful sweetness to the role of King Arthur, and has a warm, comforting presence that makes him so believable as the proverbial knight in shining armor. I found myself glad that James was in so many scenes. He decidedly shines the brightest during his heartbreakingly ironic “solo” “I’m All Alone,” and in his moments with Tim the Enchanter and The Lady of the Lake.
I really appreciate Matthew Saldivar’s take on Patsy, who is giving major “Lucky from Waiting for Godot” vibes. He has a beautifully carved and expressive countenance that makes for the perfect sad clown. But it’s still obvious that he’s having fun every moment of the performance. Matthew’s myriad comic quips and entertaining physical moments help him stand out, and he really leaves it all on the stage, especially during “I’m All Alone.”
Jimmy Smagula is superb as Sir Bedevere. I loved watching this awesome character actor pull the goofiest faces, and his powerful voice cuts through during “All for One,” “Knights of the Round Table,” and the other big group numbers. His dancing is amazing — especially the nuances he puts into his flourishes as he moves around the stage. Jimmy also does wonderfully as Concorde, and when “busting out” as Dennis’ Mother.
Nik Walker has a dauntless attitude that’s positively contagious — he literally bounces around the stage, generating joy. As Galahad, he blows the audience out of the water with “The Song That Goes Like This” up top, and from that point, it’s difficult to take your eyes off of him. However, to a slapstick fan, it’s Nik’s other two roles, The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s Father, that have my heart. What a treat for him, and for us.
Phillip Attmore, Daniel Beeman, Maria Briggs, Michael Fatica, Ryan Kasprzak, Eloise Kropp, Daniel May, Shina Ann Morris, Kaylee Olson, and Kristin Piro bring a wealth of flash and substance to the ensemble. Each of them has their own uniquely compelling properties. They’re absolutely everywhere, all at once, working to melt the hearts of the audience and make us laugh. And they succeed splendidly.
As a fan of glitz, I cannot tell a lie. I long for a closet full of the flashy outfits Tim Hatley created for this piece — particularly the cascading beaded costumes belonging to the Lady in the Lake’s entourage, and the bedazzled gowns of the nuns of Camelot. Most of the meticulously layered peasant gear could fully pass muster at Coachella, along with some of the glittery rainbow club togs (no spoilers). Extra points for the gloriously piled-high Carmen Miranda hat. And none of it would work without Tom Watson’s beautifully styled hair and seamlessly applied wigs. To Wig Assistant Charlotte Nicole, I’m saluting you!
The impressive sets (also Tim Hatley), sound (Haley Parcher), projections (Paul Tate Depoo III and Andrew Nagy), and lighting (Cory Pattak) are absolutely essential to the success of this show, which is remarkably large in scale and scope. The projections and flown-in set pieces are a great addition, and it’s always wondrously nostalgic to hear the voice of the real Eric Idle as the voice of God. I can’t imagine managing the set changes, along with the backstage traffic of a large cast. Kudos to Stage Manager Matthew Lacey — there was not even the tiniest hiccup. It helps that the cast is used where possible — dragging out prams with dancers inside, or rolling out small wooden mountains, or what have you. I admit I liked watching Michael Urie do some grunt work to earn his accolades!
Nothing about this musical is serious, which is exactly what an audience needs these days. However, the cast and crew of this production take their lack of seriousness very seriously — which is what Eric Idle and his legendary comedy troupe deserve. I’m proud to witness it.
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Monty Python’s Spamalot plays through May 21, 2023, in the Eisenhower Theater at Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($69–$325) are available at the box office, online, or by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324. There are discounted matinee options through MyTix.
The program for Monty Python’s Spamalot is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional in all Kennedy Center spaces for visitors and staff. If you prefer to wear a mask, you are welcome to do so. See Kennedy Center’s complete COVID Safety Plan here.