If you're anything like us at the Weekly Volcano, you've spent plenty of time around people who can't prevent themselves from relentlessly quoting Monty Python. Films like The Meaning of Life and Life of Brian, along with Monty Python-adjacent movies like A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures, get a lot less play than Monty Python and the Holy Grail: we've all seen action with people who bombard you with references to "the knights who say Ni" and discussions of the relative probability of swallows to carry coconuts.
This spirit, in both its good and bad associations, is alive and well in Monty Python's Spamalot. For the uninitiated - and I suspect there were many attendees at my showing who couldn't be described as British comedy aficionados - Spamalot will fly by in a flurry of frivolousness, packed with in-jokes that create a wall between newbies and nerds. As written by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, the show plays like a greatest hits of Holy Grail, dressed up with some new material and studded with self-aware songs, such as a recurring number called "The Song That Goes Like This."
While it would be a tall order for any actors to match the inspired absurdity and impeccable comic timing of Monty Python, the actors tasked with doing so in TMP's production of Spamalot are a uniformly talented lot. King Arthur (John Cooper), his trusty sidekick Patsy (Sam Barker), and their band of knights (Mauro Bozzo, Bruce Haasl and Derek Hall) are all gifted comic actors with pristine singing voices. By far, though, the shining star of this Spamalot is Trista Duval as the Lady of the Lake. Female parts in Monty Python properties are famously underwritten, and while a case could be made that that tradition continues here, Duval gets some of the biggest laughs in the show simply through the elasticity and purposeful histrionics of her singing style.
Conspicuously missing are some of Holy Grail's best-remembered scenes, including "what's your favorite color?" Galahad visiting a group of sex-starved nuns (which might not play so well outside of the ‘70s), and weighing a witch versus a duck. This isn't much of a problem, though, as the classic scenes re-created in Spamalot are frequently weaker moments than new additions, just due to the audience's familiarity with them. The new parts that thudded, though, were references to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan; TMP's production of The Addams Family, also directed by Jon Douglas Rake, suffered from the same problem. Making allusions to recent political controversies like microwaves spying on people just takes me out of the show.
Overall, though, the songs are lively and offbeat - though, it's actually from Life of Brian, it was a welcome anachronism to include "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" - and the actors are more than game and blessedly nimble in delivering rapid-fire, gloriously silly dialogue. Special shout-out to the crew that designed the set and the props, including God's feet, which comes admirably close to replicating Terry Gilliam's style.
Monty Python's Spamalot, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through April 9, $22-$31, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.565.6867, tmp.org