Wednesday, September 25, 2013


There is a whole lot of silliness going on at Davis Musical Theatre Company … and the audience is loving it.

With book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by Idle and John DuPrez, “Spamalot” is a musical comedy lovingly ripped off from the 1975 film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” While it is very, very loosely based on the story of King Arthur and his court, factual information probably stops with the entrance of King Arthur himself.

I wondered if someone who was not brought up on the comedy of the zany British group Monty Python would get most of the humor. I need not have worried. I’m sure there were “in” jokes that the Python devotees got that I didn’t, but the humor flies at you so fast and so furious that you don’t really miss anything.

Before seeing the show, I read a synopsis and found that useless. The sense of it — if there is any — rests in the twisted mind of Idle, the Monty Python members who wrote the original film, and the “12-year-old Jew” (his description) who directed it, Steve Isaacson.

Where to begin? Well, the show starts with a very proper Historian (John Haine, also hilarious as “Not Dead Fred”) setting the stage for the action, with map pointer like a proper weatherman. (“In Guinard, Palace and Difford, plague. In the kingdoms of Wessex, Sussex, Essex and Kent, plague. In Mercia, and the two Anglias, plague, with a 50 percent chance of pestilence and famine coming out of the northeast at 12 miles per hour.”)

Following his announcement that this is “England,” the stage is filled with brightly costumed dancers singing about Finland and hitting each other with fish in the delightful “Finland/Fisch Schlapping Dance,” until the historian reminds them that it is England, whereupon they leave the stage, disappointed and the scene becomes a dark, solemn church-like setting, with monks in robes and hoods chanting.

This pretty much sets up the series of vaguely related vignettes — based on Python sketches — that are to follow.
The story itself begins with the arrival of King Arthur (Scott Minor), trotting in on an invisible horse, whose hoofbeat sounds are made by coconuts worn by his trusty servant and constant companion, Patsy (Joshua Smith), which he beats on his chest. Arthur is the one character who attempts to remain serious about this silly story and Minor plays him beautifully, never noticing the total chaos around him and insisting that his only desire is to find knights for his round table to assist him in finding Christ’s cup from the Last Supper (the Holy Grail). Piece o’cake.

The knights — Sir Robin (Tony Ruiz), Sir Lancelot (Scott Daugherty), Sir Galahad (Andy Hyun) and Sir Bedevere (Steven Ross) — each play an assortment of roles. Ruiz gets to perform the delightful salute to Broadway, about the importance of Jews to Broadway musicals.

Daugherty is the “knight who really likes his night life” and is hiding a not-too-subtle secret.

Ross makes an impressive Mrs. Galahad.

Hyun goes through a “Project Runway”-like hair makeover, taming his electric tresses, and sings a salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber (“A Song that Goes Like This”) with the Lady of the Lake (Eimi Taormina).

Taormina gets to wear a succession of beautiful costumes, designed by Jean Henderson, ending with an ingenious wedding dress (by Valtyna Ribka) that must be seen to be believed. (She also has a spectacular decolletage.)
Michael Paskowitz is a towering Leader of the Ni Knights, but it is Dannette Vassar as Mini Ni, who makes the biggest impression.

Mark Deamer is Tim the Enchanter, who warns Arthur of the dangers of an evil rabbit (wrangled by Julia Thompson), prompting the use of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

And so it goes, a host of wacky characters including Eric Idle himself as the Voice of God (who else?).
Choreography by Cyndi Krivicich is outstanding and the DMTC orchestra, under the direction of Jonathan Rothman, was never better.

When asked in a 2008 interview for his opinion about “Spamalot,” John Cleese said, ” I think ‘Spamalot’ turned out splendidly. It’s had a tremendous run. I defy anyone to go and not have a really fun evening. It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen and I think Eric did a great job.”

DMTC does a great job, too, and if you’re in the mood for silly, this is the shop for it!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Les Miserables

When “Les Misérables” closed on Broadway in 2003, after 6,680 performances, it was the second longest-running Broadway musical after “Cats.” It was surpassed in 2006 by “Phantom of the Opera.”

This is a big musical that tells a big story and it is beloved by millions.
The Woodland Opera House, with its current production under the direction of Amy Shuman with musical direction by James C. Glica-Hernandez, proves that with competent attention, it can be as effective and as moving on a smaller stage. The production gets a well-deserved standing ovation.

One of the first striking things about this production is that while it is generally difficult to get enough men with strong voices to fill out a chorus in community theater, this production has a dozen or more men and each one has a principal-quality voice. It makes a huge difference in the final product.

Tevye Ditter, whose progress I have been pleased to watch over the years, is a powerful Jean Valjean, the man arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew and served 19 years at hard labor. He is big and strong and has a potential for violence, yet he is tender in his relationships with the women in his life, from the prostitute Fantine (Danielle DeBow) to her young daughter Cosette (Makenna Harding-Davis as the child, Alyssa Ray as the young woman). His “Bring Him Home,” praying for the safety of his daughter’s love, Marius, was achingly poignant.

J. Sing is Javert, the police officer obsessed with returning Valjean to prison. I’ve never understood Javert’s obsession, but it makes for good theater. Sing is every bit the match for Ditter and his solos, especially the soul-searching soliloquy, were captivating.

DeBow’s Fantine, a small but memorable role, was touching, as she gives up everything for her young daughter. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is always a highlight of this musical, and DeBow was equal to the task.
Six-year-old Harding-Davis was a charming young Cosette, certain to win everyone’s heart with her “Castle on a Cloud.”

Her older counterpart, Ray, was lovely and touching in her love for Marius Pontmercy (Dalton McNeely). McNeely, last seen as Charlie Brown in the summer production, was appropriately awkward in his first love, ardent in both his love for Cosette and dedication to the student revolt.

Innkeepers Thenardier (Dan Sattel) and Madame Thenardier (Christine Deamer), the sadistic foster parents of young Cosette, offered the lighter moments with their funny “Master of the House,” always an audience favorite.
Hilary Wells was Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, whose love for Marius is unrequited, yet she is willing to give her life for him. Her “On My Own” was beautifully performed.

Rodger McDonald plays the small role of the bishop who, by his generosity and guidance, changes Valjean’s life.

Fourth-grader Maxwell Freedman was outstanding as Gavroche, the young boy who hangs around the students as they plan their revolt. Freedman’s pugnacious body language and the determined scowl on his face never wavered and without doing anything specific, he was a scene stealer just by his presence on stage.

There are 12 musicians in the Opera House orchestra for this production, under the baton of Glica-Hernandez, and they gave the musical the full sound that it needs.

Sadly, costumer Denise Miles was left out of the program, but there is no denying that the costumes on stage were beautiful, from the tattered outfits of the prostitutes to the finery of the guests for the wedding of Cosette and Marius. However, I question the appropriateness of some of the clothes, such as the white vestments for the Bishop (white is reserved for the pope), and the perfectly tailored clothing for the students, who looked more like businessmen on a tea break than poor students hoping to send a message to the government about the dire plight of the poor of Paris. I also wonder whether Javert would wear a top hat while on duty.

This production is a real gem and, based on the nearly full house when I caught it the second weekend, word of mouth is already spreading. Don’t miss it!