The Hollywood Bowl has found its Holy Grail. “Spamalot,” the Tony Award-winning burlesque musical treatment of Monty Python’s routines and worldview, proves to be the absolute perfect choice for the LA Philharmonic’s annual staged concert, and the best such offering in the venerable venue in a decade. Nothing could have made a sweltering July night more bearable than the performance heat emanating from the giant stage, where for once size, scope and entertainment value were in ideal balance.
Director BT McNicholl, in his first Bowl outing, fully understood his mandate. With a mere 10 days or so to put it together, he went and hired a troupe of inspired musical comedians — not merely funny folk, but funny folk imbued with theatrical discipline — and evidently encouraged them to just play the hell out of their material. As such, the quest of King Arthur (larger-than-life Craig Robinson) and his knights (among them Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Christian Slater, Rick Holmes and Warwick Davis) has rarely felt this urgent in past productions. Or this funny.
Wisely, given the time constraints, many of the 21-member ensemble and conductor/musical director Todd Ellison came with extensive “Spamalot” experience on Broadway, in the West End or on tour.
Merle Dandridge’s Lady of the Lake was every bit as sultry, witty and commanding as seen at the Ahmanson in 2009, and Tom Deckman a riot as willowy Prince Herbert. Speaking of “Willow,” evening MVPs and top audience favorites were erstwhile “Willow” star Warwick Davis as an impeccable, narrative-gluing Patsy, and Rick Holmes, whose French Taunter (“you empty-headed animal food trough wiper, I fart in your general direction”) nigh eclipsed John Cleese in his “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” cinema incarnation.
Broadway vets Ferguson and Kevin Chamberlin fit in with ease, no one seeing himself as “first banana” but playing with modest, my-turn-your-turn teamwork. And who knew Christian Slater had such assured comedy chops? His sequence as a grizzled castle lord briefing dim guards Ferguson and Davis killed.
Scott Taylor and Billy Sprague, Jr. recreated Casey Nicholaw’s original eclectic, colorful choreography, for once offering more going on than even the Bowl Jumbotrons could accommodate, and Eric Idle’s script was slightly, brightly trimmed and tightened for the occasion.
Idle himself brought some live, authentic Python imprimatur to the occasion in too-brief narrator appearances, bolstered by a gleeful prerecorded turn by Michael Palin as the Supreme Being. Neither milked his moments, instead serving the story with aplomb.
Past grapples with plot-heavy war horses (“South Pacific,” “Rent” and “Les Miserables” are particularly dismal memories) have left Bowl audiences glumly trudging down the hill at 10:30 pm. But this one left you floating on air whistling “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which is actually pretty good advice for whoever picks these things in future.