Ottawa Theatre Review: “Spamalot” by Greely Players

When I first heard that Greely Players Musical Theatre had decided on Monty Python’s Spamalot for their annual production, I was so excited to see it! The time has finally come, and I attended opening night Wednesday.

As a child, I have fond memories of watching the Monty Python Flying Circus TV series on VHS… Remember those things? The big clunky rectangular plastic boxes with film inside? I watched these as a young child, growing up with parents who encouraged an appreciation for Monty Python. The movie releases came several years later, and I absolutely loved Monty Python and the Holy Grail; I’ve seen it dozens of times, and still have most of it memorized. While a familiarity with the movie is helpful during this show, allowing the audience to appreciate some of the more subtle jokes, it is by no means a prerequisite; this show is incredible (and very funny!) regardless!

The Venue

Something that always amazes me about the Greely Players is the way that the production team can convert a large empty gymnasium into such a versatile stage area. Seeing the room before and after set construction is astounding. The building itself is the Greely Community Centre, located just off Bank Street in the heart of Greely. There is lots of free parking, and there is a canteen set up each evening that supports a different local charity or community group. The only downfall about the setup is that the seating is only two levels, so if you get stuck behind someone tall, you may miss a bit of the stage. The risers for the further back rows are courtesy of a grant by the Trillium Fund, and they make a big difference! If you’re buying tickets, this is something that you may want to consider!

The Show

I have only seen two Greely players shows in the past, but each time I was amazed with the quality of production that they present to their audience. Directed by Dave Rama, Spamalot was no exception: it was absolutely flawless, and truly one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. It was hilarious, it was fun, and I loved every minute of it! My love for Monty Python certainly factors into this, but the humour, production quality, highly skilled performers and attention to detail made it perfect! The show had me fully engaged and laughing from the opening notes of the music starting up…..and the addition of the sheep “bah-ing” really set the tone for the hilarity was to ensue.

Photo: Melissa Fournier

As mentioned, you don’t have to have seen the movie to appreciate it, but it does allow you to eagerly anticipate certain scenes when you see them coming. The musical isn’t strictly scene for scene from the movie; it definitely strays, adding its own touch and modern comedy throughout, but it (thankfully!) preserves most of the classic scenes. I’m at home writing this review an hour after the show finished, and am still so excited and thrilled about this show; I have been grinning since I left! I won’t go into other details as you’ll need to see it for yourself!

Standout Performances

Costumes:

I feel confident in saying that the costumes for Spamalot were the best costumes that I have seen in a live theatrical production, and not just in Ottawa…but anywhere! Catherine Ford, in her seventh show with the Greely Players, has truly outdone herself. Supported by a (very talented!) team of volunteers, Ford truly brought the characters of Spamalot to life. The costumes were the perfect combination of what you’d expect/hope to see (the Finlandians, the knights’ costumes) and creative genius (the costumes in ‘His Name is Lancelot.’) There were so many intricate details that made many of the costumes really stand out (the Black Knight, the Lady of the Lake costumes, and others). It is pretty unusual for me to go on (“and on, and on!”) about the costumes in a show, so it’s safe to say that they blew me away. Kudos to Ford and team on a job exceptionally well-done.

Paul Grant (King Arthur):

Grant absolutely killed it in the role of King Arthur. Huge kudos to the casting team, because he was perfect in this role! This is my first time seeing Grant in a show, and he did not disappoint. The mannerisms and physicality that he brought to the role, combined with his line-delivery made his scenes hilarious, and his vocals were spot-on. What a truly gifted performer! According to his program bio, he came out of theatre retirement to take on this role…but he added such a wow-factor to this show, that I hope he might stick around!

Photo: Melissa Fournier

Jen Rowberry (Patsy):

Rowberry was phenomenal in the role of Patsy. Regardless of what was happening in each scene, she was always fully engaged and committed, and her facial expressions were hilarious! Patsy is such a beloved character from Monty Python, and Rowberry really embodied the character; I genuinely felt that she was as likeable (if not moreso!) than the film version. “Come along Patsy!”

Photo: Melissa Fournier

Chad Wolfe (Sir Robin):

Wolfe was one of the best parts of this show for me! He was so, so funny as “Brave” Sir Robin! I love when performers who are so talented are given the opportunity to showcase their skills, and Wolfe showcased a ton during this show: he fiddles, he stepdances, and he sings beautifully. But beyond that, he really shone as Sir Robin, and this was demonstrated time and again throughout the performance. Highlights for me included the sparrow conversation, ‘You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,’ and the entire ‘Brave Sir Robin’ scene with the minstrels.

Photo: Melissa Fournier

Brendan Finnerty (Sir Galahad):

Finnerty, without a doubt, made this show exceptional for me. I have seen him in a number of other shows (most recently in Orpheus’ Mary Poppins!) and he really is the ultimate triple threat. He’s a phenomenal singer and dancer, but what truly sets him apart is that he is an incredible actor. Anytime he is on stage, he stands out: even when he is not speaking, the way that he interacts with the other characters, his expressions, and his general stage presence draw the eye and add so much to the scene. I found him to be hilarious in this role of Sir Galahad, and thoroughly enjoyed his performance!

Hannah Brown (Ensemble):

Not every review has a standout in the ensemble; it can be challenging to see beyond so many phenomenal leads! However, every now and then, an ensemble member goes above and beyond my expectations: bringing their A-game 100% of the time, stealing scenes, and making the show that much more entertaining to watch. In Spamalot, Hannah Brown was that person. She was very strong in every character she portrayed, and really owned her performance. She was always fully engaged and genuinely seemed to be having a blast! Congratulations, Brown, on such a great performance!

Photo: Melissa Fournier

With a show this iconic, you really need a dream team in order to pull it off. Curious about the behind the scenes people who make a show exceptional, I recently asked around about how the Greely Players operates, and who the brainchild behind the shows is. I was very interested to learn that it is in fact two people: the producers, Natalie Currie and Michele Piironen, whose vision, creativity, and tireless dedication make these shows so amazing. For a job that requires SO MUCH work, these people creating so much magic behind the scenes get so little credit! Congratulations to both Currie and Piironen on such a phenomenal show.

On a personal note, I want to acknowledge and thank all of the hard-working people behind this (and most) shows. Without their countless months of efforts, the actors and musicians would not be able to present such high-quality theatre. You are so rarely given the credit that you deserve! Huge accolades to Dr. Andrea Kovago, Music Director, whose skill and talent was apparent during every number; to Meghan Smith, Stage Manager; to Anne Peterson, Set Designer and Assistant Stage Manager, and to Sue Armstrong Laycock and Heather Wyche, who led the Props department. This show would not have been what it was without your creativity and talents!

Honourable Mentions

I don’t always include this section, but in a show so full of talented individuals, I feel the need to highlight some truly remarkable performances. First, I’d like to mention the portrayal of (Not Dead) Fred played by Jake Blair. It was amazing: Blair was truly hilarious, I just loved it! Next up is Madeline Skiffington in the role of Historian. She nailed it!

Photo: Melissa Fournier

I’d like to give my kudos to Henry Freeth for his overall performance. He played several roles throughout the show, and I particularly enjoyed his dialogue as the head Knight Who Says “Ni”! Such an important role to play, and he could not have been more perfect in it! Lastly, this review would not be complete without mentioning the truly exceptional vocal talent of Gillian Hosick, the ‘Lady of the Lake.’ Her vocal range is outstanding, as was her ability to perform her songs with intense emotion, humour and believability. While one might think that all actors do this in musical theatre, it isn’t as common as you’d think. And Hosick took it to the next level.

Photo: Melissa Fournier

I have only two complaints about Spamalot. The first has nothing to do with the Greely Players, but the musical itself: a scene that many would consider to be a fan-favourite from the movie is not part of the theatre performance. I won’t say which one, but I was a little disappointed. The only other complaint I have about the show is that it’s run is too short! Show dates are March 20th – 24th, with evening shows Wednesday through Saturday, and matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are very reasonably priced at $20-$25 plus fees and taxes. The show itself is about two hours and fifteen minutes long, including a twenty-minute intermission. Make sure that you see it while you have the chance! This one is NOT TO BE MISSED!!

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