Out of Town
Monty Python’s Spamalot Finds its Grail Hilariously at the Stratford Festival 2023
“Always look on the bright side of life“, that’s what they sing, so enthusiastically to all of us, with automatic head-bobbings from one joyous side to another in happy unison, and inside Stratford Festival‘s magnificent production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, there really is no other way to go. It’s deliciously fun and utterly ridiculous, as any Monty Python engagement should ultimately be, with stellar comedic performances riding in most delightfully to the sound of coconut shells banging together with determination by those that follow. Within seconds, after our surprising side trip to Finland, all hesitations are entirely washed away by the utter skillful hilarity of all involved. Purposefully directed with sharp clever focus by Lezlie Wade (La Jolla/Broadway’s Jesus Christ Superstar), the quest for extreme merriment is “steady and over we go” inside the Avon Theatre in Stratford, Ontario as it is achieved wholeheartedly at every turn of phrase. And that is something no “doubting Dennis” will argue about.
Ripped expertly off from the motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail“, this stunningly funny staging of the Broadway stage musical that in 2005 received 14 Tony Award nominations, winning in three categories, including Best Musical, finds its grail time and time again, delivering forth joke after silly joke with an expertise that is golden and holy. With a score by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, and lyrics and book by Idle, this superb parody of epic proportions is completely entertaining and non-stop irreverent, in the best of all possible ways. Playing parody with Arthurian legend, Spamalot leads itself in at the instruction of the Historian, played to perfection by Henry Firmston (Stratford’s Chicago). It’s all about the tale of King Arthur, hilariously well portrayed by Jonathan Goad (Stratford’s To Kill a Mockingbird) and his trusting right-hand coconut-wielding sound man, Patsy, awesomely embodied by Eddie Glen (MTC’s The 39 Steps), by his side. They are out on an expedition, searching for and trying to recruit a knightly army of men to serve and follow him. That is once we get our location settings all in order.
Now that we find ourselves (correctly) in dreary dark England, with penitent monks bashing themselves on the head to the beat of some drum, King Arthur hooves his way before us with his trusted sound man behind him, mimicking him to perfection. How do we know he’s the King? Well, “he hasn’t got shit all over him” is about the best response one could have, as the two go door to door trying to form a troupe of knights to sit at the round table in Camelot (and I must add, after watching the most recent revival of Camelot at the Lincoln Center Theatre a few months ago, this is the one I’d most like to hang out it, in spades). And as they say, whatever happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot.
Slowly but surely, they gather together this band of merry ridiculous men; Sir Robin, portrayed with song and dance in his heart by Trevor Patt (TIP’s Jersey Boys); Sir Lancelot, played tremendously (and violently) well by Aaron Krohn (Broadway’s The Lehman Trilogy); Sir Bedevere, cagedly portrayed with glee by Aidan DeSalaiz (Winter Garden’s Into the Woods); and Sir Dennis Galahad, beautifully embodied by the beautifully coifed (and very funny) Liam Tobin (Broadway’s The Book of Mormon). Even if his politically radical mother, Mrs. Galahad (DeSalaiz) is against it from the get-go. She states, most wisely, that they all must deny any king who has not been elected by the people, and therefore, Arthur has no legitimate right to rule over them. Well said. But it doesn’t really matter in the end. Just ask that Lady in the Lake, played magnificently by the oh-so-talented Jennifer Rider-Shaw (Stratford’s Chicago). She has another plan floating within her.
Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot need to navigate the Not Dead Yet Fred (Firmston) and his lively riotous number, “He Is Not Dead Yet.” Gloriously grand. But it’s Sir Galahad (and his mother) that needs to be convinced by the mighty charms and voice of the Lady of the Lake who has to prove to them that the story of Excalibur is real and true. Cheered on by the “Laker Girls Cheer“, she turns Dennis into the dashingly handsome Sir Galahad and together, they sing the most generic (and wonderfully long) Broadway love song, “The Song That Goes Like This“, complete with a falling chandelier and swampy boat ride in order to win out the day. With a grand fling of his locks, he happily joins Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot, and together with cagey Sir Bedevere and the “aptly named” Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Show (Knuckle), they all set off for Camelot and the adventurous quest that leads them through this ridiculously funny skit-filled show.
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Out of Town
Stratford Festival’s King Lear 2023 Struggles in the Controlled Column of Rain
“It smells of mortality,” this King Lear, as the Stratford Police Pipes and Drums parade us into the opening night of the Stratford Festival in beautiful Stratford, Ontario. I must admit freely that I was thrilled. To be invited to all the openings of this world-renowned Festival is a dream, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Yet, I also couldn’t help but contemplate that moment in 2018, when, after watching The Royal Shakespeare Company’s King Lear at BAM, I surprised myself by thinking that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted another Lear viewing for some time coming. Don’t get me wrong. I love the play, with all its rich unfolding divisions around love, blindness, sanity, and a certain kind of madness that lies awaiting deep inside the sharp illumination of darkness and ego. Yet, this Shakespearian contemplation written with all the complexities of love, duty, and deceit intermingled is not my favorite of the bunch (honestly, I think that might be Macbeth). But it certainly isn’t my least favored either.
Yet after seeing that RSC production at BAM, which starred the incomparable Sir Antony Sher, I watched in awe as it dragged itself forward like an old Cleopatrian relic, spreading itself out slowly and ceremoniously in a way that made me slouch in my seat wishing for bed. That King never fully emotionally engaged, even with the hard-at-work Sher, one of Britain’s most esteemed classical actors, giving it his all. He enthrallingly stated in the program that once you play Lear, there’s really “nowhere else to go, Shakespeare-wise“. The part is a virtuoso solitary climb; a battle against time and importance; a “shouting at, arguing with, a storm.” And what could be better than that? It’s the ultimate human duel with the force of nature and existence, crackling with lighting and fury (as it should be). So it’s no wonder that I found myself, once again, ready and willing to engage, with this text and the trauma that is at the heart of this family breakdown.
Out of Town
A Dancing Dolly
Hello, Dolly! is a 1964 musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. The musical follows the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker, as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. The show, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and produced by David Merrick, moved to Broadway in 1964, winning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. These awards set a record which the play held for 37 years. The show album Hello, Dolly! An Original Cast Recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. There is no denying that Jerry Herman never wrote a bad song and that you will go home singing at least one if not several of these wonderfully tuneful songs.
In this neck of the woods, Stephen Casey is well-known for his high- stepping choreography and in the Act II production of Hello, Dolly!, he does not disappoint. Everyone in this show dances. The dance numbers are many and lengthy. And The Waiters Gallop number at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant is especially applause worthy. The pared down chorus is just as proficient at singing as they are at dancing. And the small stage at Act II is ingeniously used to give an appearance of a much bigger space. Jenny Eisehower is a very lively and likeable Dolly Levi, in contrast to Scott Langdon’s delightfully cantankerous Mr. Vandergelder. Ms. Eisenhower’s statuesque height plays well off the shorter Mr. Langdon.We know she is a woman who is always in control. Elyse Langley displays a mature soprano rendering of “Ribbons Down my Back” as Irene Malloy. Lee Slobotkin is quite endearing as Barnaby Tucker and Jeremy Konopka is a young Tommy Tune with his longer than you can believe it legs.
The costumes by Millie Hiibel were bright and playful and worked in tandem with the simple set design by Dirk Durossette. The score is fully orchestrated though, unfortunately it’s in the “can” which for me takes away from the excitement you get from a live musical.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the show as much as I would have had the minor characters not been instructed or simply encouraged to mug to the audience. Every time this happened it brought me right out of the show. In 1812’s producton of The Play That Goes Wrong many of the actors were mugging their pants off and playing it over the top — but they were forgiven because they were supposed to be a terrible community theatre company.
And yet, if you like Jerry Herman and a lot of dancing you will enjoy this show and understand why it’s been revived so many times.
Tickets are available online at act2.org, by calling the Act II Box Office at 215-654-0200, or in-person at the Box Office at 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA. The Box Office is open Mon-Sat, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Student tickets are $15 and group discounts are available.
Hello, Dolly! Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Casey. Running now through June 18, 2023 at Act II Playhouse 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002
Out of Town
The Sound Of Music Celebrates Opening Night at The John W. Engeman Theater
The John W. Engeman Theater’s production of The Sound Of Music opened last night, Saturday, May 20th. The final collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein was destined to become the world’s most beloved musical. Featuring a trove of cherished songs, including “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” and the title number, “The Sound of Music” has won the hearts of audiences worldwide.
The cast features Caitlin Burke as Mother Abbess(National Tour: The Sound of Music; Regional: Paper Mill Playhouse, McCarter Theater Center, North Shore Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre, New York City Center)
Matthew Bryan Feld as Max Detweiler (Engeman: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: Vocalosity; Regional: DCPA, Portland Center Stage, West VA Public Theatre, Derby Dinner Playhouse; TV/Film: “Manifest,” “Power,” “Fashionista”);
Angel Reda as Elsa Schraeder (Broadway: The Cher Show, War Paint, Chicago; National Tours: Chicago, Sweet Charity; Regional: Oriental Theatre/, Goodman Theatre, Goodspeed, Pasadena Playhouse; TV/Film: “Ghost,” “The Undoing,” “Sami,” “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Stepford Wives”)
Tim Rogan as Captain Von Trapp (Engeman: Thoroughly Modern Millie; National Tours: Camelot, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; Regional: Alliance Theatre, The Muny, Arena Stage, Cape Playhouse; TV/Film: “Physical”, “Blue Bloods”, “The Other Two”, “The Flight Attendant”)
Kayleen Seidl as Maria Rainer (Off-Broadway: Harmony: A New Musical, Fiddler on the Roof; National Tour: Guys and Dolls; Regional: Westchester Broadway Theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse, Actors’ Playhouse at Miracle Theatre, Heartland Opera Theatre).
The Sound Of Music is directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, A Chorus Line, Singin’ in The Rain, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Guys and Dolls, 42nd Street, and Gypsy)
and choreographed by Mandy Modic (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: 42nd Street; Regional: The Marriott Theater, Drury Lane Theater, Chicago Shakespeare, Paramount Theater, The Wick, Mill Mountain Theater).
Tom Vendafreddo (Musical Director)
Out of Town
The Rage of Narcissus Rages On at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The music pulls us into the looking glass, just like Narcissus was drawn to the reflective image of himself that would end up being his downfall. It’s a compelling and robust formulation, layering in Greek mythology around a sex-fueled obsession, gifted into a hotel room, not by the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, an aspect of Aphrodite, but by the app called Grindr. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, known for his beauty, and somewhere, in The Rage of Narcissus, a one-person show written by Sergio Blanco (Darwin’s Leap; Slaughter), the hunter becomes the hunted, or at least that is what we are supposed to initially find ourselves believing.
“I is an other,” we are reminded in neon, as the one-man show starts off casually, with Matthew Romantini (Ghostlight’s The Boys in the Band) entering and speaking directly to us. He’s going to tell us a tale, a narrative, that mixes reality and fiction. He isn’t the person standing before us, at least not for the majority of the monologue that isn’t one. He, the actor, is about to transform himself into Sergio, the playwright who is going to, inside his compelling and sometimes difficult text, weave an autofiction around one particular terrifying and disturbing week in Toronto. Sergio, the character who may (or most likely is not) be the same who wrote the script, has arrived at his hotel so that he can give a lecture later that week at the University, all around the idea of Narcissus and the artist. He’s quite a proud creature, rattling off his intellectual successes, well, like a narcissist treating us to a long list of his grand accomplishments. It’s somewhat distancing, yet it is a blurring of self and the other, and once Romantini finally unzips himself and slips into the reflective pool of Sergio, he digs in and meanders around a formulation that is part autobiography and some pretty forceful and harrowing fiction. It’s Greek mythology with blood stains, and a whole lot of graphic sex tales to either engage or distract. Depending on your tolerance.
It’s a somewhat compelling dynamic, and Romantini delivers an appealing and engaging presence, even when the tale falls victim to far too many banal exchanges, grand gesturing, and circular twisted reflections. Unfolding on a set designed by Renato Baldin (Caminos Festival’s Rocking Futures), alongside art director Marcelo Moura Leite with strong, sometimes overwhelming lighting choices by Brandon Gonçalves (Nightjan’s Back and Forth The Musical) and a clear sound design by Julián Henao, the textual thriller inches forward through a sex-fueled obsession, splattered with mystery and abstractionisms, cut with intellectual curiosities and fabrications.
Looking into the mythology of its namesake, the structuring starts to engage and layer in on its paralleling, just like the myth’s ideas around falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, staring at it until one dies. Yet in Blanco’s rendering the central figure and the other start to seem less real and more hypnotically wrapped up in one another, fantasy, and form. There’s a blending and a blurring of lines and boundaries, playing with the idea of reality and fantasy, and sometimes extreme delirious nightmares. The character of Sergio is enamored, fixated on the utterly handsome and sexy Grindr hookup that takes place that first afternoon, and even though he tries to reject the sexual advances, he can’t seem to shake the hypersexual images and urges that surround and envelop him as the week runs forward. But the blurring compromises the situation, and we are left rolling around in the eroticism and wondering if is it really just a mirroring of a need, foreseeing the obvious outcome, that starts to form like blood stains on the carpet and walls? Or is it a death sentence waiting to be delivered by oneself fulfilling prophecy.
Playing out with a teasing sense of urgency by director Marcio Beauclair (Producer, Director/Adaptation), The Rage of Narcissus finds shared terror in its dismemberment, hinting at darkness while playing with the disorder that sliced with horrific, highly sexualized poetry. It’s super smart and entangling, this formulation, playing with truth and fiction in a way that we get tricked into not seeing the autofiction as it is being played out. It’s disturbing in its rawness and overt narcissism, yet we get caught up in the unraveling and the hypertension of the moment. It digs into the mystery and makes us forget our sense of place and time. He tricks us with his vision of his own sexual sense of self, the character, and the story. It pushes us away, at points, lulling us into not caring, but then forces us back in, playing with the tale within another, and wrapping itself in shifts of light and dark that make us see the distortion rather than the true reflection. It reflects back a vision, one we might not fully enjoy seeing, but it delivers the goods dramatically, almost traumatically, sending you out into the streets wondering and thinking about Greek mythology and the narcissistic world we live in. Take that as a cautionary tale, a story dismembered of truth and packed up in a duffle bag ready to teach by counter-example.
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