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Friday, March 29, 2013

Spamalot


Book & Lyrics:   Eric Idle  

Music:  John Du Prez & Eric Idle
VenueBuell TheaterDenver Center for the Performing Arts, 950 13th Street, Denver Colorado
Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)

I was never a big fan of Monty Python.  I had a chance to see Spamalot at the Denver Center the last time it played Denver, but I turned it down.  It was an expensive evening out that I didn't think I'd enjoy very much.

That's a mistake I will NOT make again.  It turns out that you don't have to be a Python fan to appreciate the comic genius that is Spamalot.
The current touring production is in Denver for a very brief run (March 28-30), again at the Buell Theater.  Opening night was a nearly full house, and the audience was fully engaged from the opening note of the overture.
If you haven't seen Spamalot, you don't have to worry about any spoilers ahead.  The script is, to be delicate, not exactly a detailed, historically accurate story about Camelot.  It's impossible to spoil the plot, which is loosely based on a search for the "Holy Grail."  

The story (and that may be a generous characterization) is strictly a vehicle for the humor.  If you're a Python fan, the humor is what matters, and here it runs the gamut from pratfalls to sight gags; from flatulence jokes to bad puns ("alms for the poor" is unforgettable).  This touring production is spectacular; it even includes a Las Vegas style dancing and singing extravaganza ("what happens in Camelot stays in Camelot").  The choreography and music are splendidly executed, even as they sometimes skewer the very Broadway genre we are seeing ("The Song That Goes Like This" and "The Diva's Lament").  If you don't leave the theater humming "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," check your pulse.  You may need medical attention.
If there's a message for us in Spamalot (and I think there is), it's to find your place in the world:
"When your life seems to drift
When we all need a lift
Trim your sail
You won't fail
Find your Grail, Find your Grail"
Good advice, delivered with heart and humor.  
Spamalot is, at its heart, an exquisite satire, giving us caricatures of British history, French rudeness, frolicking Finns, Jewish producers/performers, and most importantly, a stinging indictment of Broadway theater "entertainment."  It's all in good fun, of course, especially if your favorite ox is not being gored.
If you're looking for your own Holy Grail, Spamalot is a great start for your quest.  

NOTES:  
This show runs through March 30, 2013. Suitable for tweens and up.  

Director:  Mike Nichols, recreated by BT McNicholl
Scenic Design:  James Kronzer
Choreography:  Casey Nicholaw, recreated by Scott Taylor
Sound Design:  Craig Cassidy
Lighting Design:  Mike Baldassari

Cast (main characters):
King Arthur:  Arthur Rowan
Sir Lancelot:  Adam Grabau
Sir Dennis Galahad:  Joshua Taylor Hamilton
Lady of the Lake:  Abigail Raye

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Everyman (On the Bus)


Playwright:  Unknown
Adapted by:  Murray Ross
Venue:  A bus on the streets of Colorado Springs
CompanyTheatreworks
Date of Performance:  Friday, March 8, 2013
Running Time:  70 minutes (no intermission)




It hardly seems necessary to state the obvious; performing a play on a bus involves certain built in obstacles.  The performance area is extremely limited, perhaps 7 feet wide at one point, but 30 inches wide at all other points.  The sight lines for the bus riders/audience invite whiplash.  Sound is complicated by the noise of traffic and a large diesel engine; lighting is limited to the smallest of light fixtures.  
Given the obstacles, it's not surprising that very few plays are performed on a bus.  Even so, Theatreworks' Everyman (On the Bus) may just change that.  This production is the most creative and the most unique performance I have seen in a very long time.
To understand why the bus ride is the perfect "venue" for Everyman, it helps to know something about the script.  Composed by an unknown playwright around 1500 A.D., Everyman is a morality play for Christians of the late Middle Ages.  Its story is allegorical; it teaches the wages of sin and the means of redemption using personifications of moral attributes (e.g., good deeds, knowledge, strength).  The script describes the inevitable and final accounting of "every man" on his or her judgment day.  It is, perhaps, the theatrical equivalent of a Heronymous Bosch painting.
The Everyman character(s) are at the last stop on their journey of life.  They face the final accounting that will determine whether they get eternal salvation or eternal damnation.  The bus is a vehicle for the audience; each passenger is traveling that journey with the characters.  The bus ride is our own final journey; each of us is traveling to our own final accounting.
Riding the bus through the streets of Colorado Springs on a dark winter night, one cannot avoid the sensation that this journey, for each of us, is a dim, lonely, and ominous one.  It's a sensation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce in a theater.  On the bus, the experience is a natural one.  As transportation, buses tend to equalize us all; at one time or another we have all ridden one.  We all know it can be a long, lonely ride.
Death/Tom Paradise.  Photo: Theatreworks
The themes of sin and redemption are timeless; despite the stilted and archaic style of the script, the message is always relevant.  Director Murray Ross emphasizes the relevance with contemporary costumes and a brilliant soundtrack.  Death (Tom Paradise) is not a grim reaper, rather, he is a dominating, tuxedo clad guy in inscrutably dark glasses.  Good Deeds (Paige Nelson) is a hunchbacked woman pulling an oxygen tank on a cart.  Strength (Sheyna Kissick) is a jogger with an iPod.
Between the several "bus stops," we get musical interludes from Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, and the Beach Boys, to name a few.  Each piece of music reinforces a theme of sin, death, or redemption, and reminds us that these issues are always with every generation, including our own.
The cast is a talented and effective ensemble, with several actors playing multiple roles.  Each brings his or her personal touch to the characters, often adding an element of fun to what would otherwise be a rather grim script.
Ross' direction is steady, with flashes of brilliance.  His touch for the climactic scene is beautiful, sensitive, and extremely effective.  He has made this final accounting for Everyman an exquisite personal experience.  He adds a final touch as the passengers disembark from the bus; the last actor you see will give you your next (and perhaps your last) opportunity for redemption. 
The Bob Dylan lyrics in the first musical interlude sum up the lesson pretty well: 
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody


Everyman (On the Bus) is a unique, special, and rewarding theater experience.  If you can get a ticket, see it.  

Photo:  Bill Wheeler
NOTES:  
This show runs through March 17, 2013.  
The bus ride starts at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, 8 S. Nevada Street (the old Mining Exchange Building) in downtown Colorado Springs.  Valet parking is $6.00 for those attending the performance when they mention they are there for the play.  
The passengers on the bus disembark for the final scene, so it is important to dress appropriately for the weather.
Everyman is SOLD OUT.

We will sell return tickets the night of the performance 10 minutes prior to the bus's departure. You can add your name to the list for returns beginning 30 minutes prior to departure in the lobby of the Mining Exchange Hotel."

You must be there in person to add your name to the waiting list, we can't take names over the phone."


Director:  Murray Ross
Costume Designer:  Gypsie Ames
Sound Designer/Sound Engineer:  Alex Ruhlin

Confession/Bob Matich.  Photo credit:  Theatreworks.
Cast:
Everyman:  Jeremy Joynt, Sammie Joe Kinnett, Megan Montgomery, Nick Henderson, Brian Gramoll.
Death:  Tom Paradise.
God:  Diane Petersen.
Kindred:  Steven Schubin
Cousin:  Takiah Coleman/Bob Matich
Goods:  Sammie Joe Kinnett
Good Deeds:  Paige Nelson
Knowledge:  Margaret Kasahara
Confession:  Bob Matich
Strength:  Sheyna Kissick
Beauty:  Takiah Coleman/Megan Montogomery
Discretion:  Steven Schubin
Five Wits:  Tom Paradise
Angel:  Judeth Shay Burns
Doctor:  Nick Henderson
Fellowship #1:  Nick Henderson
Fellowship #2:  Sheyna Henderson
Fellowship #3:  Brian Gramoll