Considering Studio Tenn’s Jake Speck and Matt Logan are one of Middle Tennessee’s most prolific and creative duos, the question isn’t why they’ve chosen to star onstage for the first time together in Spamalot (at Jamison Hall in The Factory at Franklin through Sunday, May 21), but rather what took them so long?
While an obvious wink to Broadway’s mid-century wonder, Camelot, Monty Python’s Spamalot takes elements and characters from everything from Excalibur to Robin Hood, mixes them with a simplistic plot, adds pre-pubescent humor, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references and some simply wonderful tunes to present a truly enchanting musical theatre event.
The British comedy troupe featuring Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Jones…collectively known as Monty Python, first came to popularity in the late 1960s thanks to their sketch comedy show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, that aired across the pond on BBC and stateside on PBS. Following the success of their television series, they gained every more notoriety in the seventies and eighties crossing over into filmdom with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Having conquered both the small and big screen, it’s only natural that their Holy Grail film became the basis for the Broadway musical, Spamalot.
From the first sounds of the King’s nonexistent horse trotting along, courtesy of two coconut halves being clapped together by King Arthur’s right hand man, Patsy…Yes, the King’s patsy is actually named Patsy…hilariously played by Garris Wimmer, fans of Monty Python’s Holy Grail will no doubt ‘look on the bright side of life’ while spotting familiar gags and lines throughout the show. Other Pythonisms include expelling gas in the general direction of King Arthur and his band of merry men, knights that say ‘ni’, bringing out your dead and questioning a god who’s misplace a drinking cup.
Meanwhile, fans of Studio Tenn not only get to see Logan and Speck goofily cavorting across the stage, but with a surprisingly gorgeous, albeit tongue-in-cheek soundtrack, we’re also treated to both stars’ happy-place-inducing vocal skills and brilliant comedic timing.
While Logan is typically behind-the-scenes, with his co-starring role on-stage in Spamalot, he’s turned a few of his usual production duties over to others. Perhaps aided by her British birthright, Kim Bretton’s direction finds the funny and punches it up with a few Music City references. My favorite, Ye Olde Pedal Taverne, a decidedly Nashville-nod to those annoying bicycle-powered bachelorette monstrosities that delay downtown traffic on any given weekend.
Of course, as expected from any Studio Tenn production, they’ve surrounded themselves with some of the most talented people found in theatre, not just in Tennessee, but anywhere on the planet.
Joe Beuerlein is deliciously dashing as Sir Lancelot. Mike Baum is delightful as Sir Dennis. Thomas DeMarcus is guffaw-instigating as Dennis’ Mother. Matthew Rosenbaum plays a handful or roles, most memorably, Not Dead Fred of the aforementioned ‘bring out your dead’ sequence.
Then there’s Laura Matula as Lady of the Lake. Matula’s voice is an etherial cross between Sarah Brighten and Amy Winehouse, with a quirky bit of Macy Gray thrown in for good measure. She’s just as adept at belting out classical, technically spot-on notes as she is stirring emotions in herself and the audience as she wraps each lyric in a cocoon of feeling. No small feat, considering among her songs are two reprisals of The Song That Goes Like This, a running joke poking fun at formulaic musical theatre.
Speaking of Matula’s scene stealing role, at the helm (or should I say hem) for Spamalot’s fairytale-worthy costumes is Tim Hatley. Hatley’s designs for Matula’s Lady of the Lake are stunning, from her disco diva look to the elegant and versatile final dress-turned-wedding gown.
As usual Speck’s wife, Emily Tello Speck serves as choreographer. Incorporating a myriad of genres from tap to cheer…is that a dance genre?…Tello Speck guides the Spamalot cast as they glide across the stage further blurring the lines between spoof and lavish musical theatre production values.
With tunes scribed by original Python member, Idle, Spamalot is full of witty lyrics and fun musical numbers. Among the highlights: I Am Not Dead Yet, Laker Girls Cheer, The Diva’s Lament, the previously mentioned The Song That Goes Like This and the oddly inspiring (in spite of itself) Find Your Grail.
With only three performances remaining, leave your dead at home, join Studio Tenn’s Logan, Speck and their band of merry men (and one beautiful woman) as they search for the Holy Grail in Spamalot at Jamison Hall in The Factory at Franklin (230 Franklin Road, Franklin, TN 37064). Remaining showtimes are Saturday, May 20 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 21 at 7 p.m. Tickets range in price from $35 to $90. Click Here to purchase tickets. For more information about Spamalot, Click Here. Spamalot wraps the current 2016-2017 Studio Tenn season, but there’s always something brewing at Middle Tennessee’s brightest theatre company. After a brief summer break, Studio Tenn begins their 2017-2018 season with a return engagement of The Battle of Franklin from September 7-17. Click Here for tickets or more information. Then, on Friday, October 20 in Liberty Hall at The Factory is One Night Only, their annual fundraising gala. Click Here to join the exclusive invite list. Follow Studio Tenn on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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