Infuriatingly funny fellows: The French Taunters.
Infuriatingly funny fellows: The French Taunters.
Joan Marcus


Thank heavens for the Brits — only they could come up with the sort of lunacy that makes Monty Python's Spamalot such a treat. As the Theatre Under The Stars program says, the wacky musical's been "lovingly ripped off" from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And happily, all the good giggles survive, including the killer rabbit, feet of God, flying cows and just about every other brilliant bit of maniacal madness that made Monty Python one of the best comic troupes of modern times. But the musical even goes one better, poking fun at Broadway's big-ticket brassy music, which will tickle the funny bones of even those sad folks who aren't yet Monty Python fans.

The only original member of Monty Python associated with this show is Eric Idle, who wrote the book, lyrics and even some of the music, along with John Du Prez. But don't worry, even with non-English director Mike Nichols in charge, King Arthur (Michael Siberry) is as puffed up as ever as he gallops along without a horse, looking for some knights and a kingdom. Trusty sidekick Patsy (Jeff Dumas) follows along behind, clopping together coconuts and making a trotting noise for Arthur — he is King, after all.

On his way, Arthur meets up with all sorts of oddballs, including Lance (Patrick Heusinger), Robin (Robert Petkoff) and Not Dead Fred (Christopher Sutton), who all kick up a good deal of fun at Plague Village, where Not Dead Fred is about to be thrown on the heap with the rest of the poor bastards on the undertaker's wagon. He rises up to protest, singing, "I am not dead yet!" Then Lance thwacks him good and hard, declaring "My name is Lancelot. I'm big and strong and hot. Occasionally I do some things that I should not." It is a sublimely silly moment.

Even after he's gathered up some men, Arthur's a bit lost as to what to do with them all. Then he meets The Lady of the Lake (Esther Stilwell), a diva of the first order. (This grand dame character earned Sara Ramirez, who plays Callie on Grey's Anatomy, a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in 2005.) Stilwell chews up and spits out every scene she's in with gusto and great, goofy, Whitney Houston-like riffs on high and low notes alike. In Act Two, she sings a tune called "The Diva's Lament," in which she wanders out in front of the curtain to sing about how she hasn't been on stage enough. In Act One, she dances with her "Laker Girls" and cheers on Arthur before falling in love with the big guy while singing, "The Song That Goes Like This." Here, Arthur and his Lady stand gazing into each other's eyes, warbling, "Once in every show, there comes a song like this. It starts off soft and low, and ends up with a kiss."



Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.

Through June 17. $27.25-$77.25.

Once Arthur realizes that he needs to find his grail, the wayward king's got a mission. But first he must meet up with the French Taunters, some of the most infuriatingly funny fellows ever created. They sit up in their castle, looking down at Arthur and his men, blowing raspberries and throwing bizarre objects over the castle walls. When they send out the mime, the English are driven away. Unable to take it anymore, they hightail it to "Run Away," singing, "When danger reared its ugly head he bravely turned his tail and fled."

The second act follows Arthur through a "very expensive forest," into Prince Herbert's Chamber and finally to the "Killer Rabbit," who can chew a man's arm off in a flash. The absurd British imagination on display here is as inspiring as it is hysterical. The show ends on a grand Broadway-esque high note, with the cast advising us all to "Find Your Grail." And the cast is having so much fun that only the stone-hearted could walk out of this musical not grinning ear to ear.


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