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It was supposed to be so easy: Just head over to the Dead Bob, pick up the tickets at will call, grab a nearby bite for dinner and settle in for some Spamalot. What could go wrong? Of course, nothing is ever simple when the Centroplex (now called “Orlando Venues”) is involved. The scores of parked buses and tattooed crowds outside the Amway Arena were clues that more was happening last Saturday night (March 29) than a Monty Python musical. Despite setting off two and a half hours prior to curtain, we found the public parking around the Bob Carr was already filled to the gills with wrestling fans, and only fast talking and good luck got us a spot in an overflowing garage.

We then discovered the best advice for anyone seeking a pre-theater nosh within walking distance of the theater: Don’t bother. After an hour of tromping up and down the surrounding blocks, all we found open was a borderline-sketchy Chinese takeout and a mini-mart offering “sandwiches – beer – lotto.” Even the hot dog cart in front of the Weekly offices was packing up for the night. In a sensible city, there would be a selection of cafés catering to the pre- and post-show crowd, or at least a bevy of street vendors hanging around on such a busy night. Instead, we would end up shoveling down quesadillas at the Marriott’s overstuffed sports bar, not quite the quiet repast we had in mind. I suppose the concessionaires inside the arena prefer it this way, but that’s no consolation for the theatergoer seeking an avant-act appetizer.

Finally squeezing into our seats as the warning lights were flashing, I had just enough time to chuckle at the faux-Finnish program credits before the Eric Idle–voiced preshow announcements commenced. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a seminal film of my teen years, and my greatest fear as the lights dimmed was that some idiot would ruin all the jokes by shouting them out right before they were said, as happened at every midnight screening of the film I attended in college. Thankfully, that never happened, but something more disappointing did: The show ruined the jokes on its own.

I don’t lay all the blame on the more-than-qualified cast. Tony-winner Gary Beach (an actor I applauded in Broadway’s The Producers) is competent as King Arthur, but lacks the “upper-class twit” tenor that Graham Chapman and Tim Curry brought to the role, seeming less like a British sovereign than a Brooklyn super. Esther Stilwell (with big grin and voice) ably fills Sara Ramirez’s shimmering samite as the Lady of the Lake, perhaps the most underwritten role ever to win a Tony. And Patrick Heusinger best captures the Python patter with dead-on timing as Lancelot, Tim the Enchanter and other John Cleese characters.

Python’s appeal depends on a delicate balance of outrageous absurdism and droll gallows humor. On the stage, the surreal becomes merely silly, and dry Brit wit is drowned out by American-
sitcom pacing and pop-culture references better suited for a Shrek sequel. (Posh Spice? Amy Winehouse? Really?) The audience laughed uproariously at the appearance of the French Taunter and Black Knight, but that appeared to be more about the joy of recognition and nostalgia than anything actually happening onstage. Worse, my favorite moments (“She turned me into a newt!,” “After the spankings, the oral sex!” and “What is your favorite color?”) were missing; the meh new material, like an excruciating queer calypso, made a poor substitute. With the socio-religious satire excised, most of the barbs are aimed at tired Broadway targets like Phantom and Les Miz, which only highlights the perfunctory songwriting and plotting. By the ending, which involved awkward audience participation, a bouncing-ball singalong and confetti cannons, I thought I was back at Universal’s Barney show. As the audience rose in the obligatory Orlando standing ovation, my Python-virgin seatmate shrugged and said, “It was cute.” I say, “Ni!”

(BTW, if you are looking for tickets to the really-totally-completely-sold-out run of Wicked, the folks at Broadway Across America want me to warn you away from seemingly legit online ticket brokers. Allegedly Coasttocoasttickets.com is “selling” tickets for performances that don’t exist, like overlapping shows at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on April 27.)

P.S.: I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Orlando Museum of Art’s 1st Thursday soirees, but last month’s beatnik bash turned me partially around. Organizer Anna McCambridge might revolve me the rest of the way on April 3 with something I love even more than Ginsbergian verse: puppets! Pinocchio’s Marionette Theatre may have closed, but puppetry is still alive here, as Heather Henson, Jamie Donmoyer, MicheLee Puppets and other attendees will attest. Scheduled performers include John Kennedy and Am-Jam Productions, and IBEX is offering interactive workshops. I’m looking forward to the Puppet Crawlers Parade, a patron-participatory marionette march. Even if felt isn’t your idea of fun, the night is worth $10 for access to OMA’s Norman Rockwell exhibit alone.

 

skubersky@orlandoweekly.com

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