Theater

Review: Woodstock Musical Theatre Company's 'Spamalot' exceeds expectations

For those who attend “Spamalot,” the musical version of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” at the Woodstock Opera House, a rollicking good time will be theirs. When I attended, the audience was made up of those who had never even heard of Monty Python to those who could recite the lines in advance or with the actors and actresses. Whichever camp you’re in – I, the latter – the show is great fun.

A little bit of history from a Monty Python aficionado:

• The “Monty Python Flying Circus” TV series aired in England from 1969 to 1974.

• “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (the movie basis for the musical “Spamalot”) was released in 1975.

• “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (of which “Spamalot” song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” was borrowed from) was released in 1979.

I enjoyed the American airing and reruns of the TV series in Chicago on Channel 11, WTTW, at 11 p.m. on Sunday nights while attending college at Loyola University (Go Ramblers! Call out to Gonzaga Hall!) in the early 1980s.

I was lucky enough to have seen Tim Curry (“Rocky Horror Picture Show”) star as King Arthur in the Chicago production of “Spamalot” (December of 2004 through January of 2005) at the Shubert Theater, thanks to a lovely gift from my wife.

With all of that background, and perhaps luggage, I entered the Woodstock Opera House last week. To say I thoroughly enjoyed the production would be an understatement.

Director Kathie Comella has worked to capture the spirit and intent of the Monty Pythonesque mystique in a quintessential way. In essence, to look at life and the world through a bizarre window of absurd and counter-cultural ways, where nothing is sacred and everything is open to a cheap shot in a sophisticated way that initially slips past you until you think it through and realize what just happened. This being said, a person attending this production needs to place their politically correct hat on a shelf in the closet for the night and anticipate some scenes that may hone a new edge on the sword of good taste. Very few nationalities or political or demographic groups get away from the production unscathed by its rapier wit.

I particularly was curious as to how the smaller stage of the Woodstock Opera House would accommodate this production. I was not disappointed. This was in no small part due to set designer Barry Norton, lighting designer Deb Holmen (18 lights on the forward overhead and 22 on the rear overhead lighting bars), and choreographer Maggie McCord (I am a sucker for a musical with tap dancing in it).

Through productions at the Opera House, you can see local stars emerge. There were many in this production. All of the actors and actresses, whether among the chorus or in individual parts, gave the production a full and accomplished feeling. To list them all would be to rewrite the playbill, but there were some I would like to mention. Elizabeth Zimmerman, in her performance as the Lady of the Lake, (previously seen as Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family”) is one. She possesses a commanding voice, along with a very comfortable and natural acting ability and stage presence. Gordon Wisniewski, in his role as King Arthur, accomplished the difficult task of trying to put forth a regal and comedic persona simultaneously, while performing a majority of the score. Alex Fayer as Patsy, along with April Noel as the Lead Knight who says “Ni” and “Concorde,” and Thomas Neumann stole some of the scenes.

Hopefully, readers will set aside some time to take in this unique and upbeat production for an evening of retrospect on this crazy world we all call home. When in the audience, whether you are reciting the lines, only remember a scene or two (remember there are two scenes that involve rabbits, not just one), or are going to be introduced to Monty Python humor for the first time, sit back, relax and have a jolly good time.

• Ernest J. Varga has been an aficionado of the theater the majority of his life. He first wrote performance reviews while attending Loyola University Chicago and has worked within many facets of theater productions. He resides in unincorporated northeastern McHenry County with his wife Karen, whom he met serendipitously during a production at the Woodstock Opera House.

“MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT”

WHEN: Through April 22

WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 W. Van Buren St., Woodstock

COST & INFO: A new musical presented by Woodstock Musical Theatre Company “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ ” “Spamalot” tells the legendary tale of King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail. Schedule: 8 p.m. April 13-14, 20-21; 2 p.m. April 15 and 22. Tickets: $24 adults, $21 seniors and students. Tickets and information: 815-338-5300 or www.woodstockoperahouse.com/operahouse/page/monty-pythons-spamalot.

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