Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: giddy, rude & ridiculous “Spamalot” is at 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013

Spamalot 2It’s summer and if you’re in the mood for silly…the trotting coconuts, the killer rabbit and the knights who say “Ni” are all back in 6th Street Playhouse’s irreverent Spamalot which plays in its GK Hardt Theatre through September 22,2013.

The 2005 Tony Award-winning musical comedy by Python super-star Eric Idle, with musical score by Idle and composer John Du Prez, is a loving rip-off of the 1975 classic film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Through a medley of song, slapstick, pun, and abandonment of political correctness, Spamalot tells the tale of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail and his knights’ entanglement in a Broadway production.  Along the way, it cleverly and unabashedly exploits all the cannons of musical theater while poking itself for being a musical.

In the capable hands of Craig Miller, 6th Street’s Artistic Director, the mash-up more or less succeeds. Miller, who brought us The Great American Trailer Park Musical (2012) and The Marvelous Wonderettes (2012) and who just picked up an astounding six awards in the 2013 SFBATCC (San Francisco/Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), once again combines strong local talent with an excellent production team.

I saw the show last Saturday evening (8/24), opening weekend.  It delivered some good laughs and some catchy tunes, against the backdrop of great sets and unexpected projections, all adding up to an appealing musical.  I can only imagine that the comedy component will get stronger over time as the actors work together more and find that relaxed sweet spot where they can really deliver up the hysterically funny and shameless gags we associate with Python brilliance.

Arthur and company’s musical journey begins in Finland, with the “Fisch Schlapping Song,” grown men being silly and whacking each other with huge fish.  The narrator soon gets the story back on track, back to a dense forest and the time of the plague, where it’s time to cart-away the bodies.  From there, it’s a romp through history as Arthur and his motley crew proceed to Camelot and become Knights of the Round Table. Their zany escapades include battling French Can-Can Girls, warring with a French fort and hurling a huge wooden Trojan rabbit as a weapon, and trying to outwit a vicious biting bunny who protects the Holy Grail.  The characters also take on the assignment of performing a Broadway musical.  One of the funniest moments comes when Robin belt outs a lament to Arthur that their production will never make it to Broadway “if it doesn’t have any Jews!”

M.P. fans will recognize familiar tunes as “Finland,” “Knights of the Round Table” and “Always Look on the Brightside of Life,” a classic from Life of Brian.  Idle and Du Prez co-created catchy tunes like “I Am Not Dead Yet” and “The Song that Goes Like This”  and many of these are reminiscent of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, however the silly lyrics are all Idle’s.  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” is one of the most memorable songs and, of course, is a credo that we should all live by.

“Spamalot” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013 is a medley of song, slapstick and silly fun that lovingly recounts the exploits of King Arthur and features a large cast of mainly local performers.  The original 2005 Broadway show received 3 Tony Awards and was seen by over two million people.  Photo: Eric Chazankin.

“Spamalot” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013 is a medley of song, slapstick and silly fun that lovingly recounts the exploits of King Arthur and features a large cast of mainly local performers. The original 2005 Broadway show received 3 Tony Awards and was seen by over two million people. Photo: Eric Chazankin.

Barry Martin’s King Arthur is the heart of Spamalot.  The Napa-based actor, director and co-founder of Lucky Penny Productions has natural comedic timing, a fantastic and robust singing voice, and he delivers an alternately noble and kind of daffy King Arthur whose generosity of spirit rings through all the antics surrounding him.

Arthur’s coconut-clapping page/sidekick and imaginary steed, Patsy, is played to the hilt by Erik Weiss, also a delight to behold. He’s quite young, just starting his senior year at Montgomery High School, but has a natural affinity for comedy, evident as he trots and schleps around stage beside Arthur.

Taylor Bartolucci Deguilio’s Lady of the Lake, is a spoof of all leading ladies and Broadway conventions.  Beaming Deguilio was quite sultry in an array of beautifully colorful form-fitting costumes by Pamela Johnson, but her singing voice, while energetic, was not in its usually radiant top form.  Natalie Herman (Not Dead Fred/Prince Herbert/Ensemble) had small roles but the combination of a marvelous voice and that magical “it” factor, made it her night.  After she sang just a few lines of “I am not dead yet” in Act I, I was fixed on her all night long and she got more delightful as the show progressed.

As Sir Robin, Trevor Hoffman pulled off some great dancing and singing. His Act II song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” was one of the highlights of the evening—hysterically bemoaning the lack of Jewish entertainers in Arthur’s motley crew.

There’s not a bad seat in the GJ Hardt Theatre and the stage pops with Theo Bridant’s gorgeous lighting and Jess Driekson’s scenic design.  Alise Girard’s choreography is polished and delivers, among many feats, a chorus line of dancing divas and knights and other sundry characters.  Hats off to musical directors, Jason Sherbody and assistant David Brown for their tight coordination of 22 songs.  Backing up the singing and zany action on stage is the talented eight member orchestra that keeps the rich music flowing all evening long.  Jason Sherbody (Conductor/keyboards), Steve Parker (Reed 1), Brendan Buss (Reed 2), Toom Woodville (Trumphet), Marc Rudlin (Trombone), Lisa Doyle (violin), Ab Menon (guitar/banjo), Joel Renteria (bass), Ricardo Lomeli (drums).

Overall, ARThound goes with a line from the knights who no longer say Ni! …. ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing!

Up next at 6th Street Playouse:  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Oct 25-Nov 10, 2013) Based on Ken Kesey’s novel and made famous by the 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson, Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the story of a charming rogue who chooses to serve a short sentence in an airy mental institution rather than in prison. He realizes this was a mistake as soon as he clashes with Nurse Ratched who controls the psych ward and is a formidable opponent of his notions of nonconformity.   He quickly wins over his fellow “loonies” and accomplishes what the medical profession has been unable to do for twelve years; he makes a presumed deaf and dumb Indian talk, leads others out of introversion, stages a revolt so that the entire ward can watch the World Series on television, and arranges a rollicking midnight party with liquor and chippies.  The famous show down between nurse and patient is one of the riveting evenings of theatre. Stage Direction by Lennie Dean

Details: Spamalot ends September 22, 2013 at 6th Street Playhouse’s GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 2 p.m. Tickets: $15 to $35.  For more information: or phone 707.523.4185.

August 30, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Finding the treasure in white trash—“The Great American Trailer Park,” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Theatre is a campy musical that invites you to get your redneck on….through September 30, 2012

From left to right: Mark Bradbury (Duke), Craig A Miller (Norbert), Julianne Lorenzen (Jeannie), Taylor Bartolucci (Pippi), Daniela Innocenti Beem (Betty), Alise Girard (Pickles) and Shannon Rider (Lin) are all part of 6th Street Playhouse’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” through September 30, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

They didn’t all plan to be neighbors at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in North Florida but the fates of a toll collector, his agoraphobic wife, a stripper-on-the-run, her crazy ex, and a trio of busty tube-topped women are all intertwined in the enchanting “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opened Friday at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.  Written by composer/lyricist/actor David Nehls and writer/actor Betsy Kelso, the two-act musical opened in New York in 2004, played off-Broadway and has been produced regionally and internationally ever since.  This love triangle, with its hilarious low-rent twists, has a lot of heart, a lot of dysfunction and snappy, crass, funny songs you’ll find yourself humming on the way home.  6th Street’s Barry Martin is the producer and a talented team of 7 local singers and actors round out the cast.  To add to the fun, 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

The show is staged in 6th Street’s intimate Studio Theatre where the action all unfolds just a few feet from the furthest seat.  The pre-show includes Mark Bradbury’s sign twirling display for Armadillo Arms.  The musical itself opens with the energetic “This side of the Tracks,” sung by the trailer park’s pal-gal trio (also narrators and chorus)— Betty (Daniela Innocenti Beem) the leasing agent and manager of Armadillo Arms; Pickles (Alise Girard), a hysterically pregnant teen; and Lin (named after linoleum) (Shannon Rider) whose husband is in slammer.  These gals, with their ample bewbs spilling forth from their clinging leisure wear, are neither on the “right side” or “wrong side” of the tracks, rather they’re on “this side” of the tracks.  As the women belt out tune after tune, it’s as plain as the nose on your face that these are good-hearted gals who have been through some hard times that have bonded them.  And can they sing!

Daniela Innocenti Beem made a strong impression in the title role in 6th Street’s parody, “The Drowsy Chaperone” in January.  Here, she delivers a glorious Bad Ass Betty, who’s more of an earth mother hidden under some seriously wild hair (wigs marvelously styled by Michael Greene).  Her voice is strong, appealing and memorable, anchoring song after song.  Shannon Rider, of the local Shannon Rider Band, is also impressive.

The story centers on a love triangle between toll collector Norbert Garstecki (6th Street’s Artistic Director, Craig A. Miller), his wife Jeannie Garstecki (Julianne Lorenzen), and Pippi (Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio).   Jeanie’s been agoraphobic since their son was kidnapped some 20 years ago and she stays inside their trailer timidly watching TV in a fuzzy bathrobe.  When exotic dancer Pippi moves into the trailer right next to theirs, Norbert is magnetized by her fishnet-clad bod and sexuality—and that’s way before she’s pole-danced for him.  Soon they are knee-deep into an affair.  The sparks really start to fly when Jeannie gets wind of her husband’s philandering and when Pippi’s ex shows up with a gun at the trailer park.

The show’s credibility rests on the role of Pippi and Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio delivers in spades.  She has a radiance and energy and sensuality about her that channels pop-star Mariah Carey and she puts all those netted body-hugging outfits to good use in a very authentic display of pole dancing.  Bartolucci is a stage veteran with more than 60 productions under her belt. She partners with director Barry Martin in Lucky Penny Productions, located in Napa, and the two recently collaborated on 6th Street’s Kiss Me, Kate in 2011, a production voted “Best Local Musical” in the Bay Area awards.  Her Pippi is a likeable, strong woman who is independent and yearning for love and her complex feelings for Norbert are apparent.

Craig A. Miller’s Norbert pulls off some great one-liners as the loving husband with a roving eye.  Miller’s acting and on stage chemistry with both Julianne Lorenzen, as his wife, and with Bartolucci as his new love connection adds a poignancy to the production.  You may remember Lorenzen’ s stand-out performance in The Marvelous Wonderettes in May (ARThound review here.)  She spends most of the musical neurotically trapped in a bathrobe but her burst-out moment is dazzling.

And ARThound has to comment a detail in the scenery that was spot on.   There’s a poster replica of C.M. Coolidge’s famous Dog’s Playing Poker poster on the wall of Norbert and Jeannie’s little trailer.  This is a personification of every man’s hopes and dreams for the future, carrying the subtle message that without risk there is no reward.  We may never know the outcome in life until we lay down our cards but the winner never folds (gives up).  And that’s the spirit that is driving the residents of Armadillo Arms.  And speaking of driving, there’s a fine poster image of Nascar’s beloved Dale Earnhardt on the other wall…I just knew that mild-mannered Norbert had racing in his blood.

Production Team: Directed by Barry Martin; Musical Director Lucas Sherman; Choreograper Alise Girard; Music and Lyrics by David Nehls, Book by Betsy kelso

Cast:  Daniela Innocenti Beem as Betty;  Shannon Rider as Lin; Alise Girard and Natalie Herman as Pickles; Craig A. Miller as Norbert; Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio as Pippi; Mark Bradbury as Duke

Dress the Part: 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

Details:  The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs through September 30, 2012 at The Studio Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with additional 2 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday 9/29 and Sundays 9/16, 9/23 and 9/30. Tickets are $15 to $25 and can be purchased by calling 707-523-4185 x101, or, visiting  Advance ticket purchase recommended as the show has been selling out. Suitable for adults only.

September 13, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment