Opening Nights: Spamalot


5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., 625-1900, $39 and up. 8 p.m. Tues.–Sun. (plus matinees). Ends March 2.

There are two kinds of people, I think, who may not be enthralled by 2005’s Spamalot: those who don’t care for the source movie (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, for anyone who’s been lost in the jungles of Borneo for the past decade), and those who adore it. The verbatim lifts from the film are hilarious; the heaps of surrounding material are tirelessly razzmatazzy but scattershot. (The “Knights of the Round Table” number, to name just one example, loses more than it gains from being expanded from the perfect, immortal 90 seconds of the film into a full-dress Vegas sendup.) The show’s problems, minor but nagging, are the usual screen-to-stage conversion issues (cf. Young Frankenstein): Jokes that work when underplayed onscreen don’t necessarily when overplayed (as they must be, to be audible) onstage; and one-liners can’t always sustain entire production numbers.

You sure can’t fault the creators for generosity, though. Ex-Python Eric Idle (present at Thursday’s opening night, which was a giddy thrill) and his musical collaborator, John du Prez, throw everything at the audience that musical comedy has to throw. And the director of the 5th Avenue’s production, Josh Rhodes, gilds the lily with a half-dozen Super Bowl references— Pavlov rings his bell, and we salivate on cue.

Most remarkable among a cast that is just about the best local musical theater has to offer are Laura Griffith as the Lady of the Lake, who gets to show off an immense range, both vocally and comedically, and Dane Stokinger, an absolutely protean performer who disappears into each of a sizable list of character parts (from The French Taunter to Tim the Enchanter). I had to keep checking the program every time he turned up in a new guise, incredulous it was really him.

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