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Out & About: ‘Spamalot,' ‘Forbidden Broadway’ close summer theater season

Lifestyle

Out & About: ‘Spamalot,' ‘Forbidden Broadway’ close summer theater season

Summer may have another month to run on the astronomical calendar, but the fourth week of August marks the beginning of the seasonal slowdown in arts and entertainment.

But summer exits with a bang at a pair of playhouses in Ogunquit and Arundel. Ogunquit Playhouse just opened a superb professional production of “Spamalot,” the riotously funny spoof of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Holy Grail. (And if you’ve noticed that this sounds just like last week’s Out & About, you’re right; this is a second production by another Maine company.)

“Forbidden Broadway,” a riotously funny spoof of the Great White Way, its shows and its stars, is the final offering of 2010 at Arundel Barn Playhouse. The show has been playing in New York for most of the past 28 years, but regional theaters like Arundel have only recently been able to obtain the performing rights.

As Labor Day looms, so does the annual slowdown in Maine’s arts and entertainment activities. So per usual, Out & About takes a three-week break. But let’s take a quick peak at a couple of jazzy September happenings.

‘Spamalot’

Good-natured satire and spoof to the max: That’s the core concept of “Spamalot,” one of the funniest and most successful musical comedies to run on Broadway in the early 2000s.

The show is based on the medieval English legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the search for the Holy Grail, but “Spamalot” always adds an hilariously comic and utterly irreverent twist to the familiar story and characters.

In the words of the producers, it’s “lovingly ripped off” from the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

With script and lyrics by Eric Idle – a key member of the Monty Python comedy team – and music by John Du Prez and Idle, “Spamalot” was nominated for 14 Tony Awards. It won three, including “Best Musical.”

After “Spamalot” closed on Broadway in 2009, the regional performing rights were eagerly sought by professional theater companies. Two Maine troupes were among the five winners. Maine State Music Theater’s superb production was featured here last week. Now we look at Ogunquit Playhouse’s equally fine version.

Per normal Ogunquit practice, the cast is headed by a television star – in this case Charles Shaughnessy (“The Nanny”) delightfully portraying King Arthur. Top female of the show – the Lady of the Lake and later Queen Guinevere – is Rachel York, who boasts a long line of credits from Broadway and national tours.

But my pick for the best actor is Ogunquit veteran Matthew Greer, as the effeminate knight, Sir Lancelot. I won’t reveal the surprising end of his story arc, but Greer delivers a sensationally energetic and spot-on performance. Greer also doubles as the “French Taunter” and the “Knight of Ni” in two of the show’s funniest scenes.

In addition to winning the performing rights, Ogunquit also rented the exquisite costumes, scenery and props – including a very large stuffed cow and a gigantic Trojan Rabbit – from the most recent national tour. On opening night, executive artistic director Brad Kenney told me that these five truckloads of material have been stored in Maine for almost a year. Well worth the trouble.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Spamalot” at various times and dates through Sept. 11. Call 646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

‘Forbidden Broadway’

Most of the shows produced by Arundel Barn Playhouse are tried-and-true Broadway musicals with songs and characters that are familiar to audiences. But Arundel Barn’s current offering will never make it to Broadway.

And that’s not because it’s a failure. It’s a long-running success that purposely maintains a safe artistic distance from the Great White Way.

“Forbidden Broadway” is a notoriously funny parody of some of American Musical Theater’s most famous shows and its stars. It opened at Arundel Barn last week, and I loved it.

“Forbidden Broadway” is a belly-busting laugher from opening curtain to close, and producing artistic director Adrienne Wilson Grant and stage director James Valletti have assembled an excellent professional (non-Equity) cast of two men and three women to deliver this bundle of theatrical joy.

The show was conceived and written by Gerard Alessandrini and originally staged Off-Broadway in 1982 – and has been playing more or less continuously ever since.

The format is simple – a musical revue comprising 20 sketches, each satirizing a famous Broadway show, star or producer.

Alessandrini’s genius is two-fold. First, he finds a salient point or two as the subject of his mockery. This begins with the opening number, where “Chicago” is lampooned by the five-actor ensemble. Alessandrini’s targets include director/choreographer Bob Fosse’s famously angular dance poses, skimpy costumes and racy situations.

Other target shows include “Annie,” “Into the Woods,” “Wicked,” “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Rent,” “Spamalot,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Hairspray” and “Cats.” Individuals singled out for spoofing include Carol Channing, Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand.

Arundel Barn’s cast is outstanding; most have appeared in one or more shows this summer: Alexandra Frankovich, Heather Kopp, Deon Oliverio, Kayla Ricker and Chapman Riedel. At the risk of singling out one for special mention, let’s note Kopp’s delicious rendition of Broadway songstress Ethel Merman.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Forbidden Broadway” through Aug. 28. Call 985-5552 or visit www.arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

Short takes

Here are a couple of jazzy mid-September happenings that pique my interest:

!ZING is a 14-voice jazz-tinged vocal ensemble under the direction of Charlie Brown. I attended their most recent show and loved this group, all of whom hail from Maine and sing for the love of it. !ZING will be performing Sept. 10 at the Maine Parkinson Society’s benefit dinner-concert, slated for 6 p.m. at the Woodlands Club, 39 Woods Road in Falmouth. Call 800-832-4116 or visit www.maineparkinsonsociety.org.

Ahmad Hassan Muhammad Trio, a modern jazz group led by the eponymous pianist, plays at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St., at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17. Conservatory director Carol Elowe describes this trio as “soulful, adventurous and virtuosic.” They’ve been playing all over New England and now start a national tour. Call 775-3356.