West Potomac High School’s production of the “lovingly ripped off from” the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot brings lotd of humor to the stage in a rousing theater adventure. Taken from the original screenplay (written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) and adapted for the stage with Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle and Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle; all the hilarity that past generations were raised on makes its home on the stage and in the hearts of the West Potomac students.
The story follows King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table on their quest to find the Holy Grail. On their winding path they encounter numerous featured performers including rude Frenchmen, an enchanter, multiple dancing ladies, knights desperate for foliage, and a murderous rabbit. The adventure began the second the house lights dimmed, bringing the audience into the world of the show with a comedic announcement, which was originally recorded by John Cleese, but for this performance was done by Eddie Perez.
Shortly after the intro, the audience was taught what a difference enunciation makes by Historian Shelbi Pullen, showing the difference between “Finland” and “England” with a brightly costumed rendition of the “Fisch Schlapping Song” which led us into the tastefully that is Monty Python-ish. Without further ado, we met the stars of the show, King Arthur (Peter Serle) and Patsy (Eddie Perez) who were on the search for Knights to join their group.
Guided by Musical Director Ernest Johnson, and Lead Pianist Cathy Manley, students created gorgeous harmonies that graced every song, accompanied by an excellent band, conducted by Steve Rice. Sound Designer Gracie Denton provided the audience with sensational sound, easy to hear speaking and expertly timed effects. Bridging the gap between each actors own vocal projection and the large venue, a combination of body microphones and floor microphones helped each student be heard over the orchestra. Catchy songs floated through the theater and into our hearts, leaving the audience humming while leaving the auditorium.
Many pop culture references were added causing giggles to ripple through the audience. The extra peppy “Laker Girls” made a guest appearance to cheer on King Arthur. Many French people graced the stage including a maid, Ratatouille, a mime, Napoléon, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and a stereotypical tourist, as well as the highly anticipated guards who have a certain ‘air’ about them. Some famous musical theatre icons attempted to join Arthur as Knights of the Round Table, and there’s a takeoff of the famous bottle dance from a classic Broadway shtetl musical. Even a puppet from a recent West Potomac High School production made a guest appearance.
Fairfax County School Board Member Ryan McElveen was hailed in the show as one of three people from Alexandria who go down in history – alongside George Washington and the member of the audience who assisted in the ‘unveiling’ of the surprise ending. During the opening night performance, Willa Denton was a guest on the stage, and received a Polaroid of her and the Knights as a thank you for helping them solve the mystery of the grail.
The avid lover of Monty Python will not be disappointed when seeing this spectacular production filled with numerous quotes and scenes from the movie. Eddie Perez assisted students in the comedy as the Monty Python Captain, helping bring emphasis to all the iconic references which include the great swallow debate, bring out your dead and “Not Dead Fred,” the Black Knight with his flesh wounds, the catapulted cow, the Knights of Ni, and the giant hand of God. With two acts full of belly laughs and guffaws, the humor junkie will find their sweet tooth satisfied. In order to keep the attention on the constant hilarity, stage technicians wore black morph suits.
For every curtained transition however, the audience was graced with the costumed and ever sassy Sarah Mandell pulling one end of the large drops. With the utilization of a revolve as well as multiple backdrops to differentiate from each setting, scenes rolled easily from one to the next, every transition rehearsed to a science, each blackout brief. When a body microphone fell off King Arthur, the quick thinking technicians used an audience participation bit to cover the fix. Keeping everything under control and never missing a cue, Stage Manager Sam Poole called a phenomenal show, utilizing the moments prior to the show and the brief intermission to ensure that everything would flow smoothly for opening night. Projections added tastefully to different moments on stage: emphasizing God’s mission for Arthur, illustrating the French castle battle, and providing a reason for the Knights in “Always look on the Bright Side of Life” to have umbrellas.
Always impressive was the gorgeous choreography. Co-Choreographed by Philip Lee Clark and Kaila Anderson, each step was well-timed, and every toe tap, shuffle and ball change rehearsed to a T. Each number brought excited anticipation for what might be tapped or twirled. The costumes were a mixture of period stylized costumes as well as more modern clothing, combining Monty Python and Ancient Great Britain, with wonders like spandex and glitter. Lesya Melnchenko and Becky Lehner made sure that each costume added to the scenes and brought both the humor and the story to something as seemingly simple as clothing. The best example of the union is when the Knights go to Camelot, but as we all know: “What happens in Camelot stays in Camelot.”
Following God’s giant finger on a somewhat hair-brained quest, Arthur, King of the Britians, never shies away from his destiny. The deep-voiced and majestic senior Peter Serle portrayed the King as strong, confident, and stubborn.
King Arthur’s Chief Everything Officer, Patsy, was played by senior Eddie Perez who mixed smarts, common sense, sarcasm, and a blunt nature in order to create a very relatable, sensible character. Patsy, the Brain to King Arthur’s Brawn, was never afraid to correct his King or call into question different oddities about the play, adding self-awareness to the brilliance of the script.
Senior Anjum Choudhury brought to life the female lead, the Lady of the Lake, adding a dazzling soprano to the shows deeper tones. Leading King Arthur down the right path is a difficult feat, even with Patsy’s help, and Miss Choudhury brought a down to earth feel to the ethereal styled part, and showed the beauty in being blunt and full of the common sense that King Arthur so desperately needs.
The Knights of the Round Table include Sir Robin (David Jarzen), Sir Galahad (Ben Roberts), Sir Lancelot (Austin Harlow), and Sir Bedevere (Hunter Harlow). Arthur’s choice in brave men to serve as his advisory board was an immaculate one; all the Knights harmonize, dance, and even ride their horses in time with one another. It is apparent that these gentlemen put every ounce of themselves into their characters, adding realism, truth, and backstories that are visible every moment they are on stage.
Sir Robin’s grail is found on the stage where he teaches us, through song and dance, of course, what to do to become a Broadway hit. David Jarzen brings a light hearted nature to the scaredy-cat character, showing his prowess in tap, soft shoe, and song, rather than with a blade and feat of strength. Sir Bedevere is the space cadet in the group, coming up with great ideas but not being able to remember the order of everything and often leaving the group in tight spots.
Sir Galahad is the “dream boat” with luscious brown hair, but brings up politics when least convenient. Last, but most certainly not least, Sir Lancelot brings modern day issues to the forefront with dazzling costume changes and a smile. Austin Harlow takes every part of this character and embraces it, leaving the audience in stitches.
The ensemble is one of the largest parts of this show, and each student in a featured role took the stage with stars in their eyes and truly made each scene. As individuals and as a whole ensemble, the support each actor had for one another was evident even from the back of the auditorium. Students were brought in from Carl Sandburg Middle School as the Knights of Ni, to work alongside the high school students and provide both age groups with valuable learning. Working as a cohesive unit, each member of the ensemble added backstory to each scene and helped keep the show move forward, without them Arthur would probably still be lost in the forest.
Spamalot is a show that should not be missed. Philip Lee Clark has upped the standard of High School Theater with his work, and his students are the best example of just how high the bar has been set. With a stellar cast, a remarkable tech team, and hardworking faculty supporting the performers, there is no going wrong with West Potomac High School’s Spamalot.
Monty Python’s Spamalot plays through Sunday afternoon at West Potomac High School – 6500 Quander Road, in Alexandria, VA. Performances are May 1st at 5:00 PM, May 2nd and 3rd at at 7:00 PM and May 3rd at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults, and you can purchase them online, or at the door. LINK Meet the Cast of West Potomac High School’s ‘Spamalot’ by Gracie Denton.