The old axiom “the show must go on” traces its origins back to traveling circuses when, if an animal got loose, the ringmaster and the band tried to keep things going so that the crowd would not panic. Well, there’s one hell of an ‘animal’ running loose in Sonoma County right now and the folks at the Spreckels Theatre Company have decided their show must go on. They’ve gone ahead and opened their production of Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park with the intent of completing its run through October 29.
I had mixed emotions about the decision. Most theatre companies have cancelled or postponed their productions. The air quality in the area is horrendous. Cell phones constantly beep with notices of the latest evacuations or fire updates. Thousands of people have lost their homes or have been evacuated from them. Roads are closed. Emergency vehicles from around our state and others are filling the streets. One cast member from this production is recovering from burn injuries in San Francisco.
And yet I attended, not so much as a reviewer, but as a member of the theatre and Sonoma County community seeking to support my fellow artists and citizens. I was joined by about one hundred other folks, some to support their family and friends, others to escape for a few hours from the harsh reality of the world literally just outside the theatre doors.
I’m glad I did. It was incredibly therapeutic to be in a theatre and to hear people laugh. I am extremely proud of the theatre artists who took the stage last night and gave their all to provide this community some relief.
The show began with a slight change to the usual admonition about cell phones. Rather than turn them off, people were encouraged to just switch them to vibrate. With that, musical director Lucas Sherman and the eleven-piece orchestra began the overture.
Spamalot is Monty Python member Eric Idle’s musical mash-up of their 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and several of their British television series’ best bits. It’s the warped tale of King Arthur (Robert Nelson) who, joined by his servant Patsy (Ted Smith), is gathering a company of knights (Zane Walters, Craig Bainbridge, Peter Rogers, David Gonzalez) to begin a quest for the Holy Grail. Along the way they’ll run into the Lady of the Lake (Shannon Rider), some Knights who say “ni”, a “him-sel” in distress (Lorenzo Alviso) and his exasperated, music- hating father (Sam Starr), a French taunter (Thomas Yen), a person who’s not quite dead (Emily Walters) and a rabbit that’s dynamite.
It’s a silly show with silly songs like “I’m Not Dead Yet”, “The Song That Goes Like This”, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”, and “Whatever Happened to My Part?”. Choreographer Michella Snider has them done in a variety of styles from classic Broadway show-stoppers to Vegas lounge acts to a smidgen of disco. In the same vein, director David Yen has his silly cast doing silly things. The humor is often bawdy and crude with both groan-inducing and laugh-out-load visual puns and bits. The “Black Knight” scene seemed to fall apart as much as the Black Knight, but that just made it funnier.
For those who expect more specific criticisms, let me just say this: For a cast that, like most people in the area, has probably slept little in the last week and have had to breathe ash for the last five days, they did all right. Hell, they made me laugh.
The show concluded with an encore of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Many in the audience joined in, and as they exited the auditorium, they all seemed a little happier than when they entered.
If you’re at the point where you need a break and feel safe enough to get out, go ahead and turn off your TV and radio, put your phone on silent, grab some friends who could use a laugh or two as well, and join King Arthur and his gang on their quest. You may not find the Grail, but you’ll find some something better – a little light during these very dark days.