Monty Python s Spamalot at Toby s Dinner Theatre

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If life seems jolly rotten then there’s something you’ve forgotten—Monty Python’s Spamalot is playing at Toby’s Dinner Theatre! There is no better way to tickle your funny bone this season than with a good old-fashioned laugh-a-minute musical comedy like Monty Python’s Spamalot that will have you roaring in hysterics right through the company bow.

Fighting: (top left) King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey) and The Black Knight (Nick Lehan); Singing: (top right) Lady of the Lake (Priscilla Cuellar) King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey), and the Knights) Prancing: (bottom left) Patsy (Jeffrey Shankle), King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey); and Taunting: (bottom right) The French Taunter (David Jennings). Kirstine Christiansen.
Fighting: (top left) King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey) and The Black Knight (Nick Lehan); Singing: (top right) Lady of the Lake (Priscilla Cuellar) King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey), and the Knights) Prancing: (bottom left) Patsy (Jeffrey Shankle), King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey); and Taunting: (bottom right) The French Taunter (David Jennings).

Directed by Mark Minnick with Musical Direction by Ross Scott Rawlings, this uproarious show, lovingly ripped from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail, will have you laughing until you cry. Whether or not you’re a Python fan, there is humor to be had for all; a tremendously great performance given by a dedicated and talented cast, it’s the perfect pick-me-up for the cold weather blues!

Bringing all the glamour and glitz of a big Broadway production to a stage in the round is no easy feat, but it is accomplished with flying colors compliments of Lighting Designer Coleen M. Foley. With fabulous lightning effects for the arrival and departure of God, as well as the Enchanter, Foley brings the ferocity of a raging storm straight into the theatre. Her disco fever light show adds a wild and zesty flare to “His Name is Lancelot,” and the continual surges of flashy colored lights during numbers like “Knights of the Round Table” and “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” really bring all the spectacular flare expected from this high-caliber production.

While the glitz may be streaming from the lighting fixtures overhead, the glitter is abundant in practically every stitch of fabric compliments of original Costume Designer Tim Hatley. Coordinated for Toby’s by Lawrence B. Munsey and Marianne VanStee, Hatley’s vision of show-stopping outfits comes to vibrant life at the theatre in the round with enough sequins and glimmering strands of beads to put the Vegas strip to shame. Finding the appropriate balance between filthy rags for the peasants and the sheer bursts of neon ruffles for the cha-cha dancers in “His Name is Lancelot” Hatley’s designs are epic. His use of the primary color palette in such vivaciously bold hues during “Fisch Schlapping Song” immediately pop out and grab the audience’s attention. But Hatley’s finest work is the myriad of gorgeous gowns reserved for the Lady of the Lake; each one more grandiose and impressive than the one before it.

Director Mark Minnick creates a fantastic atmosphere on the stage for this show; giving it appeal to anyone who enjoys musical theatre and comedy, be they Python fan or not. His honest approach to the piece gives it a level of performing integrity that is a rare find in comedies; treating every moment with genuine truth, he succeeds in letting the audience find all of the laughs they were intended to and then some. Minnick’s strong pacing of the show keeps the actors on their toes and the audience in constant hysterics, always staying one step ahead with the jokes and his keen perceptive sense of comic timing ensures that this highly stylized British humor is approached in a manner that makes it relatable.

Minnick, also serving as the show’s choreographer, has an exceptionally deep understanding of how to present this show in the round; ensuring that everyone, regardless of where they are seated, gets to see a great deal of the action and hilarity that ensues as the show progresses. His dance routines are energetic, particularly during “Find Your Grail,” a slightly slower number that is still surging with intensity and energy as the cast shuffles and glides through it. His fancy footwork is skillfully coordinated, keeping the actors in sync while still looking expressive; this is particularly true during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Having a powerful ensemble is a useful tactic for this production, guided at the hands of Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings, and it pays off during big show-stopping numbers like “Find Your Grail” and “I Am Not Dead Yet.” With high energy pulsing through their bodies for the dance routines (especially the girls during “Knights of the Round Table” and when they appear as the Laker Girls for the extensive cheerleading and acrobatic routine during “Come With Me”) and a healthy dose of booming volume, the ensemble does not disappoint in any way.

Top: King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey). Middle: (l to r) Sir Bedevere (Shawn Kettering) Sir Robin (Darren McDonnell) Sir Lancelot (David Jennings) Sir Galahad (Nick Lehan). Bottom: Patsy (Jeffrey Shankle). Kirstine Christiansen
Top: King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey). Middle: (l to r) Sir Bedevere (Shawn Kettering) Sir Robin (Darren McDonnell) Sir Lancelot (David Jennings) Sir Galahad (Nick Lehan). Bottom: Patsy (Jeffrey Shankle).

Having all the right players in all the right places is the mark of a talented director, and Minnick proves his abilities with his casting choices. Taking up four major roles is the refreshingly talented David Jennings. His phony and ridiculous French accent as the French Taunter is a scream. And the modern shout out to internet relevance during his role as King Ni gets the audience roaring. But Jennings’ claim to fame in this production is his bold approach to Sir Lancelot. A staunchly butch and extremely macho fellow, Jennings lives up to the masculine stereotypes with vim and vigor, presenting a brilliant character that quickly evolves to new heights of hilarity. Jennings’ singing voice is nothing short of sublime and can be plucked out in ensemble numbers for its rich quality, but when he gets to dancing in “His Name is Lancelot” the laughs pour in and don’t stop! A rather amazing performance is given, especially when he and Prince Herbert (David James) get together for their section of the “Find Your Grail Finale (Medley).”

Playing the multi-faceted ‘character man’ is the exceptionally comic and extremely talented long standing Toby’s veteran, David James. Taking on half a dozen roles, James brings the comedy by the barrel full. His silent characters are as uproarious as his speaking ones, as proven by the scandalously ripe flying nun ballet moment executed during “Knights of the Round Table.” James’ physical shtick is deployed to perfection when he plays as “Not Dead Fred” jittering all over the place in the hysterical number “I Am Not Dead Yet.” But the character that takes the crown is his role as Prince Herbert. James’ flamboyant and utterly shameless approach to the extremely effeminate character had me and the audience laughing so hard your my sides were hurting. His rendition of “Where Are You?” – a pining love ballad that just tops the cake of this crazy character – was sublime.

James also serves as the lyrical minstrel for Brave Sir Robin (Darren McDonnell) and gives a splendid rendition of “Brave Sir Robin” with the comic timing in that song executed flawlessly and matched to perfection with McDonnell’s wary glances. McDonnell is a class act when it comes to comedy and practically steals the show with his big breakout number “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” He finds the balance between singing the song and really delivering the zingers that had the audience rolling throughout the number, and when he started off a Fiddler on the Roof-esque dance routine the hilarity hit new heights. An absolute comedy man, McDonnell brings a well-rounded comic presence to the role of the petrified none-too-brave knight, and does an exceptional job of carrying funny moments without blinking an eye.

The even bigger scene stealer is Nick Lehan, taking on the roles of Sir Galahad, the Black Knight and the angry Scottish father of Prince Herbert. Lehan’s comic banter with King Arthur early in the production is the holy grail of comedy. His sharp witty delivery, keeping an impeccable pace throughout this dialogue is fascinating and hilarious. But watch for his ridiculous dance moves during “Knights of the Round Table” – you won’t be able to take your eyes off him, that’s if you’re not laughing too hard to keep them open. Lehan has a sensational voice that is hearty and welcoming, played out to pure perfection in “The Song that Goes like This” a duet with the Lady of the Lake (Priscilla Cuellar.)

Cuellar is jazz incarnate. Her zippy style and sassy voice is phenomenal for her rolling number in “Knights of the Round Table.” She presents a dynamic performance, gliding with ephemeral ease between ethereal warmth and optimism to extremely infuriated scorn and frustration; all of which are reflected in both her voice and her body. The overdramatic approach to numbers like “The Song that Goes Like This” brings a layer of hilarity to her character that inspires laughter across the entire house. Her voice is stunning, particularly the enormous belt that rings out for ages at the end of “Whatever Happened to My Part?” That number showcases Cuellar’s diva side with an incandescent burst of fury; a perfect juxtaposition to her mellow and dulcet side as showcased in “Find Your Grail.” A sensational voice with an exceptional acting ability, Cuellar is a goddess in this role.

Prince Herbert (David James), Brave Sir Robin (Darren McDonnell), and Sir Galahad (Nick Lehan)Kirstine Christiansen
Prince Herbert (David James), Brave Sir Robin (Darren McDonnell), and Sir Galahad (Nick Lehan)

Of course the whole show at its root comes down to a lonely man on a quest and his trusty, albeit at times invisible sidekick. King Arthur (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Patsy (Jeffrey Shankle) together as they search the dark and very expensive forest looking for knights, the grail, and Jews, oh my! Munsey and Shankle are the epitome of a perfect stage pairing, understanding each other, relating and responding to one another like a well oiled machine. Munsey plays the robust king, bold and proud and at times rather ridiculous. His rich rustic timbre inspires laughs abound, his singing voice a warm wave of regal expression that announces his presence. Munsey’s solo (duet, technically) for “I’m All Alone” is delivered with such sincere serenity that you cannot help but bursting out into fits of hysterics. His voice is featured throughout the performance, nowhere so strongly as in his self-proclamation number “King Arthur’s Song.” Bringing a commanding presence to the stage, Munsey rules the role with a brilliant zest.

Munsey may be the king but the little man gets saved best for last. Shankle sparkles in the role of peasant underling, servant and horse to the king. There is something outstanding about his commitment to making this character, forging him in the dirt of Arthur’s shadow and making him radiate despite being working class. Shankle’s accent is spot on for the role and when he gets to singing the accent carries through in a balanced fashion that makes his articulation clear without compromising the character. It’s his epic dance routine during “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and his unflappable smile in this number that will really have you cheering for him. Shankle’s natural ability to unearth the comedy in even the dreariest of situations is nothing short of sensational. Watch him closely during “I’m All Alone” for what may possibly be the funniest moment in the show.

Arthur, King of the Britains, has issued the call! He and the knights of the round table want you to come down to Toby’s Dinner Theatre and see their incredibly phenomenally royal and hysterical production ofMonty Python’s Spamalot before they gallop off onto their next quest!

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

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Monty Python’s Spamalot plays through March 22, 2014 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre— 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.


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