54 Sings Monty Python’s Spamalot

54 Sings Monty Python’s Spamalot

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, May 6, 2018

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

The 54 Sings series has paid tribute to a multitude of subjects over the last few years. These have included classic musicals and cult favorites, as well as both songwriters and spotlight acts. And, in an effort to cater to young and hip cabaret cognoscenti, the series also has found itself favoring contemporary titles like Newsies, Heathers, and Memphis. A good song is a good song, right?

Well, perhaps.

In this showing, director Robert W. Schneider and music director Daniel Lincoln have amassed a crop of (basically) young talent to celebrate the surrealist-comedy Spamalot. The Broadway hit ran over 1,500 performances and its source material, the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, has an almost fanatical following. Needless to say, both are brimming with comedy gold. So why wasn’t this showing funny?

Most often contemporary material like this, with its sequences and segues, is formatted in a cinematic style.  Unlike shows of the past, with songs which highlight singular moments, Spamalot requires the audience to jump aboard a fast-moving train from start to finish. Add to that a seemingly unending supply of sight-gags, many of which are impossible without set and costume accoutrement, and a show emerges that proves tricky to put over in concert.

Timing and style land the on-the-page humor, particularly noticeable from a Tim Curry-esque Ryan Andes.  Alternating between droll and smug, Andes exuded comedic leading man charm in King Arthur’s “I’m All Alone” (all music and lyrics by John Du Prez/Eric Idle).

And his sycophantic lackey Patsy, the marvelous George Salazar, found humor off-the-page with animated facial takes worthy of Carol Burnett and Charlie Chaplin. There was a quiet joy that eminated from both, and especially in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” that made the evening tolerable.

Much of the rest of the cast felt under-rehearsed and too attached to their music books to be able to finesse the material. Exceptions were a go-for-broke Alex Dorf in “Burn Her” (a number cut out of town), the pontificating dry humor of Historian (read: Narrator) David Staller, and the always superb Brian Charles Rooney. His “His Name Is Lancelot” gave new meaning to frolic.
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Beyond that, the audience sat as spectators—quietly watching (what seemed like) a rehearsal unfold. Yes, there were laughs from time to time; even the most jaded find a lyric like “There’s a very small percentile who enjoys a dancing gentile” amusing. But this showing raises an overarching question:


Whether concert or cabaret, the goal is to highlight the material in a fresh way. Perhaps it’s a deconstruction. Or maybe it’s a new take. But neither, or much of anything else, seemed to materialize here.
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This showing, haphazard and tedious, unfortunately would have been better left to the talent on the original cast recording.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.