Spoofy ‘Spamalot’ returns to Las Vegas as Super Summer Theatre production

Phil Shelburne’s used to working knights.

After all, he’s been the director of Excalibur’s resident King Arthur pageant, “Tournament of Kings,” for 14 years.

But he’s known the knights of “Spamalot” for a lot longer than that.

That’s because “Spamalot” — Super Summer Theatre’s zany Monty Python musical, now playing at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park — is based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

And that 1975 cinematic romp was “actually the first theatrical thing” Shelburne remembers seeing.

“It was the first script I ever bought,” Shelburne recalls. And, after buying the script, “I went around enacting” sequences from the movie, “doing all the parts. It was the first remote theatrical interest” the future director had, he says.

No wonder Shelburne suggested the Tony-winning “Spamalot” for a Super Summer Theatre berth as soon as the theatrical rights were available.

“Spamalot” preserves the movie’s central focus: the quest of King Arthur and his knights for the Holy Grail. (Assuming such a knockabout romp can be said to have a central focus, that is.)

In addition to spoofing the heroic King Arthur and his knights, however, “Spamalot” adds a second target: showbiz itself, which comes in for considerable skewering in the madcap musical numbers, most of which were written by former Python stalwart Eric Idle — who also wrote “Spamalot’s” book — and John DuPrez. (The exceptions: movie holdovers “Knights of the Round Table” and “Brave Sir Robin,” both by Neil Innes, and Idle’s sing-along favorite, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which made its debut in the 1979 cinematic opus, “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”)

The combination of comedy and musical comedy adds up to nothing more, or less, than “fun and silliness,” Shelburne says.

Initially, the director thought there might be “a considerable amount of tie-in” between the worlds of “Spamalot” and “Tournament of Kings.”

Now that he’s staged the show, however, Shelburne realizes there’s “not really much similar” between the two.

Except, of course, for the portion of “Spamalot” that transports audiences to “the town that never sleeps … it’s Camelot!” (Any similarities between “Spamalot’s” Camelot and the glittering Vegas Strip are, we presume, far from coincidental.)

Cue the aforementioned “Knights of the Round Table” number, in which the title characters “dance whene’er we’re able,” doing “routines and chorus schemes with footwork impecc-able.” They also “dine well here in Camelot,” eating “ham and jam and spam alot.” (And now you know where “Spamalot” gets its title.)

“We make fun of Las Vegas and the Excalibur,” Shelburne acknowledges. “There’s a good homage to that.”

Speaking of the Strip, Super Summer’s “Spamalot” is the complete package — including the material cut from the show for the 90-minute, intermissionless version that played Wynn Las Vegas in 2007 and 2008. (The Wynn production was contracted to run for up to 10 years, but only lasted 15 months.)

Among the restored elements: the song “All for One,” in which a historian explains how King Arthur (played by Glenn Heath) gathered “the strongest and bravest in the land to sit at the Round Table,” including the “homicidally brave Sir Lancelot” (Steve Huntsman) and “Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave as Sir-Lancelot” (Scott Gibson Eubele, in Idle’s original “Holy Grail” role).

Also along for the ride: Arthur’s faithful companion Patsy (Evan Litt), who naturally bangs coconuts together to provide the clip-clops required to simulate the hoof beats of Arthur’s equine charger; and the Lady of the Lake (Sandra Huntsman), who gave Arthur his sword Excalibur and returns to, among other things, sing a quintessential Broadway duet with the king (“The Song That Goes Like This”) and headline a Vegas-style show, complete with her backup dancers, the Laker Girls. (Insert “ba-da-bum!” rim shot here.)

They join such memorable supporting characters as the seemingly invincible Black Knight, the sickly Not Dead Fred, the dreaded Knights who say “Ni!” — and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

“We’ve got the giant rabbit, we’ve got the cow over the wall,” Shelburne notes, citing just two of “Spamalot’s” obligatory comic creations.

Overall, “it’s a very hard show to weave your way through with all the scenes” required, he explains.

Especially on the Spring Mountain Ranch stage, which has no fly loft (to store scenery when it’s not being used) “and not much wing space” at the sides, Shelburne says.

Due to the storage space crunch, “we had to build out behind the theater and run pieces” on and off stage during the show, he notes.

Which seems perfectly in keeping with “Spamalot’s” zany, knockabout spirit — some, but not all, of which may be traced to its cinematic source.

“Obviously, when you’re using material that people are very familiar with,” meeting expectations is expected, Shelburne says. “But there’s a fine line” between satisfying audiences and making the show too connect-the-dots predictable, he suggests.

Balancing the two is “always an interesting challenge” — one Shelburne’s tackled more than once in his Super Summer career.

Last year, for example, he directed “Legally Blonde,” and “it did very well,” he recalls.

Much better, in fact, than what he expected after he read the novel that became “Legally Blonde” — and was utterly underwhelmed by the original book.

“I always go back to the source material,” Shelburne says. “And this year, I have the script I bought in 1979.”

Not that he needed to read it again to know that he already liked “Spamalot” — quite a lot.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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