Atlanta Lyric scores a hit with rollicking ‘Spamalot’

THEATER REVIEW

“Monty Python’s Spamalot”

Grade: B+

Through June 29. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturday (June 28 only). Jennie T. Anderson Theatre (at the Cobb Civic Center), 548 S. Marietta Parkway, Marietta. $32-$52. 404-377-9948, www.atlantalyrictheatre.com.

Bottom line: A jolly good show.

In their 1975 cult movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the British comedy team poked raunchy, irreverent fun at the classic story of King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, and their consecrated quest for a certain golden chalice.

Based on — or, by its own description, “lovingly ripped off from” — that film, the 2005 stage musical “Monty Python’s Spamalot” takes it to another level. Conceived by Python member Eric Idle (who wrote the script and lyrics, and co-wrote the music with John Du Prez), the show not only parodies the Arthurian legend, but it’s also a sendup of musical theater itself.

On both counts, director Alan Kilpatrick nails it with his stylish and exuberant production for Atlanta Lyric Theatre. Monty Python’s patented sense of humor can be an acquired taste, and some folks dig big Broadway-scale musicals more than others. Even so, exuding an amiable spirit that’s infectious, the Lyric’s “Spamalot” is an utterly disarming delight (pun intended for fans familiar with Arthur’s bloody encounter with the Black Knight in the show).

Other famous scenes from the movie are here, too: a riff on the Trojan Horse involving a large wooden rabbit; a violent altercation with another little bunny; a battle sequence replete with a catapulted cow; and the running gag of Arthur riding around on an imaginary horse, while his trusty manservant trails behind using coconut shells to provide the galloping sound effects.

Later, amusingly, that page serves the same purpose during one of his sire’s new tap-dancing numbers. In another splashy musical bit, the mythical Lady of the Lake is accompanied by a group of “Laker Girls” who spontaneously break into a cheerleading routine. Camelot now appears in the form of a medieval Las Vegas, with no shortage of colorfully dressed showgirls and chorus boys.

(The lively choreography is by Abbey O’Brien. And when Arthur comments on “Spamalot”’s “expensive” production values, it’s one of the few times in the show that he isn’t kidding. The lavish costumes are designed by Lindsey Paris, the sumptuous scenery by Lee Shiver-Cerone.)

It may be no surprise to hear that the veteran Atlanta actor Bart Hansard is a real treat as Arthur. But if you’ve never seen Christopher Kent on stage before, his turn as the king’s sidekick, Patsy, is an unexpected pleasure. Additional standouts in Kilpatrick’s ensemble include Logan Denninghoff (as the virile Sir Galahad) and Blake Burgess (as a gay Sir Lancelot).

The true show-stopper in the cast is Mary Nye Bennett as the Lady of the Lake. Although she’s an accomplished musical performer on the local scene (most notably from Horizon’s “Avenue Q”), rarely has she demonstrated as much versatility as she does here, comedically as well as musically.

Under the music direction of Paul Tate and B.J. Brown (who also conducts the Lyric’s 14-piece orchestra), many — but not all — of the song highlights belong to her: from the rousing Vegas number “Find Your Grail” (done up in Cher drag) to the hokey romantic duet “The Song That Goes Like This” (with Denninghoff) to the hilarious solo “Whatever Happened to My Part?”

Tweaked to include a few local references – among them a plug for the Lyric’s upcoming “Cats” and the use of the one-and-only Clark Howard as the (pre-recorded) voice of God – “Spamalot” proves to be a consistently clever kick.

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