“A good time was had by all” best summarizes Saturday’s opening night at Northern Stage’s outrageously entertaining production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. And that means the 22 fine actors that filled the stage as well as the audience barely able to control its enthusiasm.
Of course, it’s Monty Python — and in your face! With book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, this large-scale, song-and-dance musical — yes, it had a full coterie of dancing girls (and boys) — that nearly overwhelmed the 240-seat theater. This is Vermont’s first large-scale professional theater production since the advent of COVID-19.
The ridiculous and ridiculously funny plot follows King Arthur traveling around England to find candidates for his Knights of the Round Table. When he and his band of misfit knights finally gather in Camelot, they receive a charge from God to find the Holy Grail. Any sanity is purely accidental.
The audience is immediately greeted by a grandiose castle — with all sorts of secrets. We are first introduced by the historian, a professor-like Thaddeus S. Fitzpatrick (who appears later in a much more delicious role).
Appropriately, the two characters whose presence really filled the stage were the most important. Jonas Cohen as King Arthur sang and carried himself with regal authority (but perhaps less intelligence), while Michelle Beth Herman exuded beauty and sang with brilliance as the all-important Lady of the Lake. Still, Ben Liebert quietly nearly stole the show as Patsy, Arthur’s ever-suffering factotum and patsy, not only with his warm lyrical singing but with his great accents and zinging wit.
The remaining knights were all played by delightful character actors, particularly Scott Cote as Sir Robin whose mere presence was funny. Thom Miller was Sir Galahad, who Arthur discovers as Dennis the “mud gatherer,” while Jack Russell, in inept historian (and Sir Lancelot’s horse).
Speaking of Sir Lancelot, perhaps the funniest scene in the show is when Cordell Cole as Lancelot is surprised when called to rescue a damsel in distress to find it’s Prince Herbert dressed — in a frilly nightgown. Lancelot discovers his “softer side” when the scene culminates with a rollicking song and dance number.
The “song and dance” part of the show was carried out by the young but very professional troupe, choreographed by Ashleigh King. The excellent seven-piece pit band was ably led from the keyboard by Kevin A. Smith, the music director. Excellent lighting was by Daniel Kotlowitz, sound by Mike Tracey. (Costumes from the Broadway production by Tim Hatley were rented.)
There were a few — very few — dragging moments in the show. Most were in the writing, but the audience participation part may have been a bit long. The nits have now been picked.
The most important element in this production was Carol Dunne, Northern Stage’s producing artistic director since 2013, who directed with expertise. All parts of the production — staging, acting, music, choreography, etc. — were one, seamless parts of a whole. And this was consistent throughout Saturday’s performance. The production was nothing short of excellent.
What a better way is there to celebrate spring than Northern Stage’s joyful and hilarious production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot”?