MANILA -- Upstart Production’s “Spamalot” is back to make audiences laugh a lot a second time around.
Loosely based on the cult classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” this off-the-rails comedy has something for everybody, a loving tribute to geek and pop culture disguised as a medieval comedy.
But you don’t have to be a fan of the original material to appreciate this show, although someone familiar with the original material will find more value in how iconic scenes were interpreted. After all, “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” is one of the hallmarks of the geek counter-culture and the Pythons -- with a who's-who of British comedy like John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, and Eric Idle -- have become synonymous with surreal comedy.
For instance, the creative way that the Black Knight “T’is but a flesh wound” scene was staged made it all the more absurd. "Ready Player One" fans will delight in discovering the origin of the “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch” reference in the battle with the “Killer Bunny of Caerbannog.”
Sadly, the “Bridge of Death/Questions Three” is not in the stage version, giving way to original sub-plots revolving around the further exploits of Lancelot and King Arthur’s crazy knights.
But including “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” from the other Monty Python movie “Life Of Brian” is a welcome addition. And thankfully, the conclusion of "Spamalot" has been been changed from the movie's legendary abruptly ludicrous ending.
For a generation who has never seen Monty Python, "Spamalot" is a gateway drug to the wry humor for which the group is notorious for -- especially now that the Monty Python feature-length films recently became available on Netflix.
The source material is rich enough with comedic moments but
"Spamalot" producers were given ample leeway to add more contemporary references. Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and YouTube are given shout-outs alongside "Les Miserables," "Company," Stephen Sondheim, and William Shakespeare widening the appeal of this musical. Jokes have punchlines that pay off one after the other, after the other, after the other laced with dry British wit are guaranteed to have the audience rolling in the aisles. Even the souvenir program is not spared from gags and easter eggs!
This Monty Python script would not work without a killer cast. Led by Lorenz Martinez, whom I remember from Upstart’s brilliant and insanely funny production of “Forbidden Broadway,” the cast has the unenviable task of not breaking character and maintaining composure as they bounce off each other in wacky scenes.
Enfants-terrible Noel Rayos, who plays a seemingly macho member of the round table, the knight who says “NI!”, and an obnoxious Frenchman, and Reb Atadero’s off-kilter bard and flighty "damsel" in distress, steal every scene they’re in as they gleefully “overact” (and I mean that in the best way possible) everytime they’re on stage. This cast’s comedic timing is so on-point that jokes and punchlines seem to come out of nowhere. The end result is comedy gold!
But of all the actors, this production of "Spamalot" was a showcase for Carla Guevara-Laforteza. I got to see her last year and I thought she had more moments to shine in this new run. Dressed in Francis Libaran’s gowns, her Lady of The Lake effortlessly transformed from an ethereal Arthurian character, to a Tina Turner cover singer, to a Vegas showgirl, and finally, to a broadway Diva. She really can ham it up with the best of them.
(I really would also like to see Laforteza’s alternate, Rachel Alejandro, whose turn as Kate Monster in "Avenue Q" years ago stamped her mark as an onstage comedienne, in this role too.)
I caught the run last year and I thought this production was a little different.
“Everyone in the cast is inventive. It’s basically the same show but they added things here and there,” explained Upstart founder and Spamalot directory Joel Trinidad.
“With a cast like this, there are revisions in every rehearsal. Our job as directors is usually to tell actors to explore, in this case, we had to reign them in,” added co-director Nicky Trivino.
It would be easy to dismiss “Spamalot” as a nonsensically hilarious two-hour romp in the theater. But that, it is not. One of the hardest things to do is to make an audience laugh. And to make the audience laugh continuously for two hours, while not breaking character and maintaining a (mostly) deadpan manner, is a testament to an astounding cast. Just as the original material is unapologetically a comedy of absurd, this production follows its crazy footsteps.
"Spamalot" is silly, and sometimes, shallow. But it does this with such wit, and such intelligence that elevate it above the average comedy. In King Arthur’s mission, we find parallels in our search for our own holy grail. For a select few of us, all we have to do is get off our butts and find it.
"Spamalot" runs until April 22 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.