Typical Humboldt theatergoer Ricky Plantagenet fondly recalls that as a young sprout helping Aunt Mary and Uncle John with the harvest, he and his buds amused themselves in the fields by reciting Monty Python and the Holy Grail word for word. Now semi-retired from selling plague insurance in Fortuna, Ricky has just seen the musical Monty Python's Spamalot, currently on stage at Ferndale Repertory Theatre.
"They got some bits from the movie exactly right," he said, "but on other bits the director violated canon. She should be fired." (He apparently meant the director, not the cannon.)
However, Ricky's wife Errata-Mae, who has never seen the movie but has heard of Broadway, said she loved the singing and dancing. They both reported laughing a lot.
The musical does enact the movie's most famous scenes, though sometimes differently and out of order (the Black Knight doesn't show up until the second act.) But that's not the director's fault — it's the writer's, Sir Eric of Idle (who appears to banter with King Arthur in this production.)
Apart from its basic task of dismembering the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table, the play is true to the Pythonic spirit in seizing every opportunity to mock everything, including itself. Much of the musical (especially Act II) is a broad parody of Broadway musicals, from the classics like, well, Camelot, to the bombast of Phantom of the Opera.
There are the rude jokes and edgy satire of the Python troupe, as well as the wordplay inherited from earlier Oxford and Cambridge wits like the Beyond the Fringe boys (the Lady of the Lake is accompanied by the Laker Girls). But even parodies of Broadway can deliver buoyant singing and dancing, and this production does. You can eat your satire and have the brighter side of life, as well. There's even a cute ending.
A successful ensemble production requires the complete engagement of everyone on stage at every moment, and that commitment was evident at Ferndale, even in a matinee performed hours after the show's premiere.
Let the irrepressible Brandi Lacy (Lady of the Lake) represent the singers and the electric Danielle Cichon symbolize the dancers (did I hear a cymbal crash?). Everyone has shining moments, notably Edward Olson (Arthur), Bobby Amirkhanian (Patsy), Anthony Mankins (Galahad), Tyler Egerer (Robin) and Dimitry Tokarsky and Brandon Day in various parts. To name but a few.
The comic timing and expression are so universally fine that apart from individual talent, this must be among director Carol Esobar's many accomplishments in this production. She makes full use of the big stage without it ever seeming too crowded, thanks also to the efficient set designed by Daniel Nyiri and Brittany Haynes.
Beyond fully serving the show, Dianne Zuleger's orchestra and Jenneveve Hood's costumes are superior. The actors and special effects designer Daniel Lawrence pull off some very funny stage magic.
Cichon's choreography, Telfer Reynolds' lighting, Howard Lang's sound and an army of others contributed to this impressively accomplished and high-spirited production.
Monty Python's Spamalot is onstage at Ferndale Rep weekends through April 6. Evening shows start at the earlier time of 7:30 p.m.
And Now For Something Completely Different
As for the future at Ferndale, new Ferndale Rep board president (and Spamalot producer) Greta Stockwell tells me that the rest of this season is set, and next season should be announced at the end of April.
Beginning April 25, Ferndale Rep will host a performing arts festival for two weekends called "Music From the Hart." (Hart being the name of the Rep's building.) Then opening on June 6 is the small-cast comedy The Dixie Swim Club, directed by Leira Satlof. The musical The Wedding Singer, directed by Brandi Lacy, opens July 25.
In general, Stockwell says the Rep wants its seasons to consist of three or four musicals and one or two straight plays. The board is running the organization at the moment, but will soon advertise for several permanent positions, including artistic director, technical director, office and house manager, and bookkeeper.
"We have a tremendous group of volunteers who have been working tireless hours to keep our doors open in spite of the negativity that has surrounded the Rep as of late," Stockwell said in an email. "We will continue to aim for theater that entices the community, engages artists and creates high production values. I, personally, want the Rep to be a fun and safe place for artists to work and play. And, of course, financial solvency is completely necessary. It has been a rough road, but I appreciate those that have stood by the theater in our recent times of trouble."
Coming Up: Dell'Arte School first-years present 10 short melodramas of their own devising in An Evening of Melodrama, Thursday-Saturday, March 20-22 at 8 p.m. in the Carlo Theatre. 707-5663, www.dellarte.com.
On Thursday, March 27, North Coast Repertory Theatre in Eureka opens The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Three actors perform drastically shortened and parodied versions of 37 Shakespeare plays. 442-6278, www.ncrt.net.