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November 28, 2014
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arts & leisure

A Night at the Theatre with Jonathan Fox: Legendary Holy Grail (of comedy) unearthed at the Forestburgh Playhouse!

Spamalot cast as they are appearing at the Forestburgh Playhouse
Contributed photo


It’s true. The Holy Grail has been found. With considerable help from the dark and twisted minds of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Python alum Eric Idle (book and lyrics) created a “lovingly ripped-off” musical version of their film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” turned it upside down and teamed up with John Du Prez (additional music) to create “Monty Python's Spamalot,” now playing in Forestburgh.

Granted, Idle started with comedic gold. That said, in the wrong hands, anything (especially Python-esque antics) can go horribly wrong, but fortunately for audiences in the Catskills “Spamalot” is a riotous, hilarious romp through the Middle Ages that left me (and the packed house) gasping for air, unable to control our constant laughter, chortles and guffaws. The show itself is brilliant. Nominated for 14 Tony Awards, the original production won Best Musical in 2005, was seen by more than two million people and grossed over $175 million during its highly touted run on Broadway. Forestburg Playhouse’s (FBP) “Spamalot” director Larry Smiglewski has the great good fortune to have an incredibly talented cast to work with, and under his extraordinary guidance, has let them loose in the “Miracle of the Forest” to run amok, singing, dancing and cavorting with style, flair and panache to spare.

From the moment the curtain rose, I was enthralled. Harlan D. Penn’s scenic design is delightful, Gretchen Halle’s costuming choices spot-on, and Ken Chamberlain’s sound design was thankfully flawless, all of which added to the overall production values that were enhanced by musical director Kevin Lawson conducting, which once again struck all of the right chords. The ensemble is terrific, racing at breakneck speed through the nonstop hilarity that Idle’s script encourages, and the principle players are a comedic force to be reckoned with. Kevin Loreque (as King Arthur) is wildly talented and his understanding of the material is beyond reproach. Loreque’s resumé is impressive and his performance as Arthur illustrates the point. From the smallest arch of his brow to the broadest slapstick pratfalls, Loreque commands the stage and entertains with such skill, that he set the bar very high indeed for the rest of the cast.

Not to be outdone, leading lady Jessica Wagner (The Lady of the Lake) hit the stage running and never slowed down, keeping up with Loreque and company, while owning the spotlight in an endless parade of fabulous musical numbers. Wagner has it all—an incredible vocal range, magnificent comic timing, and a gifted presence that enhances any production fortunate enough to have her grace the stage. Forestburgh audiences have been treated to performances from this pair before, but it won’t be long before they belong to the Great White Way forever, so I wouldn’t dawdle, thinking you might catch them next time around.

As if these two weren’t enough, there are several standout performances from the Knights of the Round Table. Russell Mernagh, Kevin Confoy, Michael Starr and Tony Clements shared the stage, playing off of each other with glee, and deserve credit for their participation in really, truly, making the show work. Christopher Nolan (Herbert) left no stone unturned in his quest to shine and Michael Schauble (Patsy) did what “second bananas” are supposed to do. Schauble’s “supporting” role was seamless perfection and supported not only his King, but the entire ensemble by example. The “Laker Girls” were a dreamy confection, the assorted guards, monks and gaggle of French stereotypes fully realized, and the entire production (from soup to nuts) was funny, funny, funny, just as Eric Idle intended, and I have to believe he would be proud to be associated with this production.

It wasn’t just me, the audience was rolling in the aisles and tickets are surely going fast. If you can only see one show at the Forestburgh Playhouse this season, make it “Monty Python's Spamalot.” I can promise you a “fish-slapping” good time. For reservations and information, go to www.FBplayhouse.org or call 845/794-1194.