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Review: American Stage's 'Spamalot' shines in the park

ST. PETERSBURG

No one passing downtown along Bayshore Drive in the evening can miss an incandescent glow from Demens Landing Park.

This year with Monty Python's Spamalot, American Stage in the Park has set off a controlled explosion of light and sound and color. More remarkable, each element corresponds with the next, a coherent vision driving high intensity lamps on some fine performances.

Former Money Python member Eric Idle adapted the musical from the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a loosely constructed tale around the Arthurian legend, and won a Tony award for best musical in 2005. With two-dozen songs and a score by John Du Prez, the show advances the film yet retains the trademark Python irreverence, not just for society but to the conventions of musical comedy itself.

Scenes blend into one another like dreams, presenting maddening riddles and dilemmas that would be laughable to anyone except the person who is dreaming. At the start of Act II, for example, King Arthur is distracted from his quest by the knights who say "Nit," who demand a shrub as payment for going further — or, failing that, that he produce a Broadway musical. That the material has not aged very much in more than 40 years speaks to the influence of the British comedy troupe, within which Idle developed a reputation as a playful wordsmith.

The extent to which it has aged — say, by venturing into humor referencing Jews or effeminate men — seem, at least to anyone paying attention, more like an opportunity to consider our own mores than anything offensive.

This production, directed Jonathan Williams, also reaches out to people who were never Python fans, starting with the physical environment. A castle designed by Jerid Fox mounts sophisticated light and sound systems and also provides multiple layers for actors and a very professional ensemble to perform. For the first time, the band plays inside a pit in the stage, furthering a sense of integration.

Some standout performances include Randall Delone Adkison as the ever hopeful Arthur, Brad DePlance as long-suffering sidekick Patsy and Scott Daniel as the conflicted and confused Sir Robin. Even with their strength and that of the other principles, the show would not be nearly what it is without Becca McCoy as the Lady of the Lake, delivering gospel, jazz scat and a Broadway belt with a self-satirizing aplomb.

The format does drag out a bit in the second act, mostly because this was never really a story so much as a series of skits. So after a while, it's a little wearing to take in yet another character with another premise, another beginning and middle and whatever comes after the middle. Fortunately this did not last long, and a return by Arthur seemed to revive the audience out of what had become a studious silence.

Besides, honoring the spirit of its creators means not taking anything in Spamalot too seriously. "You know, a laugh and a song, a laugh and a song, is really what it is," Idle once said.

That, plus a picnic basket, is what American Stage in the Park is all about. Enjoy.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

. If you go

Monty Python's Spamalot

The show runs through May 8 at Demens Landing, Bayshore Drive and Second Avenue S, St. Petersburg. $16-$38. (727) 823-7529. americanstage.org.

2017 in the park: Hairspray

American Stage Theatre Company has announced that Hairspray, which won a 2003 Tony award for best musical, is next year's selection for American Stage in the Park. The musical, based on a 1988 John Waters film by the same name, is both a tour through early 1960s song and dance and a commentary on social injustices that also characterized the era. The show opens April 21, 2017.

Review: American Stage's 'Spamalot' shines in the park 04/19/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 6:18pm]
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