For more than eight centuries, the Holy Grail has been the glowing goal of crusaders from King Arthur to Indiana Jones. The vessel Jesus reputedly used at the Last Supper was said to possess mystical powers, and its legend has been recounted in books, films, TV show and even operas.
Who would ever guess that it's been hiding out in Anchorage?
Want proof? Check out "Spamalot" at the Atwood Concert Hall.
"Spamalot" is the Camelot tale seen through a cracked mirror, with music, fireworks and tap dancing, all from those wacky folks who brought you 'Monty Python's Flying Circus." The British comedy troupe eviscerated Sir Thomas Malory's 15th century tale of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in 1975's "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and the poor legend hasn't been the same since. After all, seen through Python eyes, Sir Lancelot is a homicidal thug, the knights are cowed by a killer bunny, and Arthur's noble steed is just a peon trotting behind him, clapping a couple of coconut halves together.
Thirty years after the movie, the Pythons' irreverent send-up arrived on Broadway as "Spamalot," which won three Tony Awards. The Broadway production went dark in January, but the road show hit Anchorage on Tuesday at the Atwood Concert Hall with John O'Hurley in the lead as the well-meaning but fairly clueless Arthur.
It's especially fitting that O'Hurley should have stepped into Arthur's iron Nikes just in time to play Anchorage. Local TV watchers are well familiar with O'Hurley from his role at eccentric J. Peterman on "Seinfeld," his light-footed stint on "Dancing With the Stars" and, of especial resonance to Alaskans, his quirky commercials for GCI in Alaska.
And a doughty Arthur he makes too. O'Hurley is an able comedian, as he has shown many a time, but here he gets to display a nice, resonant singing voice. His solo "I'm All Alone" is both touching, as he laments his lack of companionship, and funny, as his loyal serf Patsy (Jeff Dumas) grows increasingly frustrated at Arthur's inability to see that he's had a faithful friend all along.
Oops. That almost makes "Spamalot" sound rather, uh, sensitive. Forget it.
As the brutish Sir Lancelot, Matthew Greer amuses, but he and his character really come into themselves at the end, when Lance's true self is revealed, in more ways than one (think disco).
James Beaman's not-very-brave-at-all Sir Robin has a tendency to soil his chain mail whenever danger threatens. And Sir Bedevere (Christopher Gurr) is "strangely flatulent." There are scantily clad women, euphemisms for excrement and some other non-p.c. references.
It's a whole lot funnier than Mallory.
In this universe, the Lady of the Lake, who gives Arthur his sword, Excalibur, has the body of a Playboy pinup, the vocal chops of an opera diva turned lounge singer, and the attitude of a great white shark. It's a meaty role, and Merle Dandridge, who played the Lady at the end of the show's Broadway run, goes with it. Her voice soars in the anthem "Find Your Grail," although on Tuesday she tended to swallow some words during her Act II solo "The Diva's Lament."
Audience pleasers, of course, included a couple of Alaska references. The dreaded, horned Knights Who Say "Ni!" who demand tribute from Arthur change their name to one incorporating Ketchikan and Wasilla, with a "You betcha!" tacked on.
And on Tuesday, when the Grail was finally found, it turned up under the seat of John Havelock, former Alaska attorney general. Maybe Wayne Anthony Ross should get a ticket.
The national touring company's sets fill the Atwood stage impressively. The costumes range from paupers' rags to the Vegas glitz of Camelot, where the Lady's skin-tight feathered bodysuit channeled Cher.
The show's moral -- and, yes, it actually has one -- is that there isn't one Grail, but many; that everyone's goal is different, from love to Broadway to finding one's true sexual orientation.
Oh, shoot. It's sounding sensitive again.
Bring on the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Yup, that's in it too.
By LINDA BILLINGTON