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24-hour Musical sloppy yet lovable

By Maxwell Price

Section: Arts

September 12, 2008

I find that the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” generally holds true for arts criticism. Nevertheless, there are certain instances in which a cover-or in this case a playbill- provides a surprising degree of insight into a work’s actual content. If you attended the 24-hour Musical, Monty Python’s Spamalot directed by Cassie Seinuk ’09, on Sunday night and spent a few minutes glancing at the playbill, you probably saw the little italicized tagline beneath the illustrated title that read, “A musical lovingly ripped off from the musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture.” That little blurb probably describes the show better than any review I could possibly write.

First, you’ve got the adverb “lovingly.” That word exemplifies the spirit that pervaded the Shapiro Theater from the moment the effusive audience began packing into the room until they raucously cheered their friends during the finale. I found myself absorbed in the whole carnival atmosphere and gathered conclusive evidence for the theory that the amount of fun an audience has at any artistic event is directly proportional to the amount of fun the performers have. And if I had to sum up the experience with one positive comment I’d say that the performers had more fun that night than I thought was legal in the state of Massachusetts.

Next, you’ve got the term “ripped off.” Throughout the performance I couldn’t help but imagine the characters as pixelated versions of themselves traipsing around a youtube screen or frozen in a facebook photo album. This bootlegged format only seemed proper given the fact that the Broadway musical acts as a kind of theatrical apograph of Monty Python’s film, The Holy Grail, and that the Brandeis version of the show proved a cheap imitation of the original stage version.

That’s not to say that cheap means bad any more than a black and white indie film is necessarily worse than its blockbuster counterpart. The only difference is that the blockbuster usually comes after the indie film, while Brandeis’s production seems to reverse that order. Such a phenomenon is usually reserved for musical theater, and though I’ve seen student theatrical groups butcher everything from Phantom of the Opera to Guys and Dolls, I’ve never seen anyone mangle a show as deliberately as the 24-hour Musical folks ripped into this bad boy.

Luckily, they couldn’t have picked a better show to attempt in their limited time frame. Monty Python routines tend to reveal an absurdist, self-referential edge that only people who love to laugh at themselves could pull off, and there’s no better recipe for humiliation than putting on an entire musical in 24 hours. The cast seemed to get such a kick out of screwing up that it was hard to hold it against them when they completely derailed a song or devolved into chaos during a choreographed dance routine.

Each actor displayed his or her own charicatured persona front and center, and the charisma of the individuals trumped any chemistry from their interactions.  Gavi Young ’09, for example, played the Lady of the Lake-an egomaniacal diva in Monty Python’s universe-with such reckless bravado that I feared she might actually smack some poor actor off the stage. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off her, so her diva techniques must have worked.

Adam Barish ’09 managed to make an extremely British deadpan as Galahad seem like his own original interpretation rather than John Cleese’s. As Sir Robin, Nathan Hakimi ’11 put on his best cowardly lion face, making the Round Table’s token fraidy cat surprisingly endearing. The only slight disappointment among the major characters was Bryan Prywes ’11, who portrayed King Arthur as an anal lieutenant without any redeeming qualities. He seemed to remain static and boring while everything else spun out of control around him.

Actors who tackled the bizarre secondary characters-including Amanda Hoffman ’11 as a  French-stereotyping snobbish guard and Mike Martin ’09 as a musical-loving gay prince-added to the show’s anarchy while flaunting their unique comedic talents.

The performance was sponsored by the Hillel Theater Group and Tympanium Euphorium, and the former’s influence remained evident despite the superficial Christian themes of a show about the quest for the Holy Grail. If the song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” whose punchline revolves around the ubiquity of Jews on the Great White Way weren’t enough, the giant illuminated Star of David that appeared behind the actors drove the point home.

Unfortunately, the show suffered from its running time, which extended beyond the limit of good sense considering that half the audience (including yours truly) was sitting on their asses in the front due to a seating shortage. Next time, I recommend cutting down the length of the show and finding a venue that can accomodate a larger crowd. An inside joke can only go on for so long, even if it is inspired by Monty Python.

It’s easy to frame the 24-hour musical project as an elaborate scheme to gain a few laughs at the expense of overtired actors. Yet I like to think that the production succeeded because it remained a labor of love. The unbridled zany energy of the entire ensemble lifted the show up beyond the level of vaudevillian schtick.

Still, it’s hard not to give credit where credit is due when the energy level in a show stays consistently high despite a cast with less hours of sleep than the show’s running time. Judge the show by its flimsy black and white playbill at your own risk.

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