When Spamalot director Kevin Kuchar delivered the ubiquitous pre-show curtain speech, he emphasized a focus on process over product that serves as the foundation for the Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program. It’s safe to say that the process must be working (and quite well) because the product presented by his company of talented young actors bespeaks an artistic maturity beyond their years.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the performances of our charming two leads, Eitan Mazia (Arthur) and Noah Kieserman (Patsy). The gifted pair exhibit terrific chemistry while utilizing the sort of articulate physical vocabulary necessary to pull off Spamalot’s farcically Campbell-esque hero and sidekick. Mazia’s unhinged Arthur balances between daring feats of bravado and the sort of volcanic, pent-up frustration triggered by being the only Abbot in a world of Costellos. Kieserman gives Patsy a cheerful brand of “aw shucks” optimism that serves him well in numbers such as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and “I’m All Alone.” Both Mazia and Kieerman nail their accents and show off impressive vocal ability throughout the performance.
The rest of the cast, made up of high school students with résumés longer than they are tall, radiates similar charisma throughout. With upwards of 30 members in the cast (I could hardly keep count during the curtain call), Kuchar and his Assistant Directors (students Meryl Crock and Carla Astudillo) are to be commended for overseeing such a well-organized performance. Each young actor shines at a different point, whether in one of the many amusing moments of comedy (a notable example being Elie McCoy as the not-quite-dead man) or in the showing-off of their considerable musical talent.
The most impressive set of pipes belongs to Audrey Rinehart, who makes a difficult part (The Lady of the Lake) look easy. Rinehart stomps through “The Song That Goes Like This” and “The Diva’s Lament” with stiletto-sharp force and unyielding poise. Spamalot may be a musical with a dearth of opportunities for women to shine yet Rinehart captures every one of her moments with vivacity and grace.
It should be noted that, because Act Two is a training program, cast members are often doubled in order to give the actors opportunities to build multiple characters. Such is the case with the Lady of the Lake, a role that Rinehart shares with Carley Rosefelt, and Sir Lancelot, played by both Tyler Lazzari and Max Fowler. When I saw the show, Lazzari played the legendary hero with a fabulously funny Zoolander-esque tenacity.
The rest of our Knights of the Round Table shine in roles that allow for imaginative interpretation. As the not-so-brave Sir Robin, David Newman eats up the delightfully meta “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway.” Marc Pavan is delightfully droll as the half-knight, half-sociopolitical genius Sir Galahad. The role of awful battlefield tactician Sir Bedevere is well-served by Claire DeCroix.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Spamalot is a musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail with book and lyrics by Python vet Eric Idle. As is the case with Monty Python’s trademark brand of cheeky British humor (or rather, humour), Spamalot’s song-and-dance numbers tend to devolve into glorious madness. Effectively harnessing that wild energy is the unsung star of the show, 16-year-old choreographer Rachael Schindler. Riotous sequences such as the cheerleader-led “Laker Girls” and “Knights of the Round Table” are crisply designed and executed by the troupe’s capable dancers. The silly Finnish “Fisch Schlapping Song” and disco-inspired “His Name is Lancelot” feature choreography for over two dozen performers, each with enough wild-eyed individuality to maintain the necessary levels of rowdy pandemonium. A tap routine during the Camelot/Vegas number features the sounds of toetaps accented with the coconut-clapping beats of Patsy’s horse-clompers. It takes a strong connection between performers to be able to play up a show’s moments to full effect; clever bits like this reflect well on the company’s cohesion.
Audience members were tickled by fun references to the film augmented by what appears to be a good sense of dramaturgical awareness by the cast. Annika Cowles delights as the flatulent French taunter whose insults sting like bolted arrows. Liam Allen hits all the right notes as the eminently silly leader of the Knights Who Say Ni. Jhonny Maldonado is particularly impressive as the not-so-damsel in distress Herbert. Other giggle-inducing turns came from Faith Porter (the Black Knight), Talia Frank-Stempel (Tim the Enchanter), and the aforementioned Astudillo (Bors), whose ill-fated character meets up with a particularly abrasive bunny rabbit.
The cast is supported by strong design from BOTCH and costumes by Annika Maria, and Scott Selman (Light, Sound, and Set). The magic of Camelot comes alive in every new sound cue and silly prop. Rachel D’Amboise calls a terrific show and the full live band, directed by Arielle Bayer never misses a beat. There was also excellent vocal direction by Keith Tittermary.
Spamalot is the third of three productions this season by Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional program. The previous two – Parade and Urinetown – were mounted at Arena Stage and Woolly Mammoth, respectively. After Spamalot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of these actors return to those prodigious stages as professionals in the very near future.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Spamalot played May 2-4, 2014 at Act Two @Levine’s Pre-Professional Program performing at THEARC Theatre-1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE, in Washington, DC.