Surflight's 'Spamalot' a great reason to head to Long Beach Island

Broadway veteran Kelly Briggs heads the excellent cast of the Surflight's production of "Spamalot."
Broadway veteran Kelly Briggs heads the excellent cast of the Surflight's production of "Spamalot."
Posted: August 08, 2014

AS A lifelong fan of Long Beach Island, I certainly don't need a specific reason to go there. But the current production of "Monty Python's Spamalot" is a doozy of an excuse to schlep to the Ocean County seaside resort.

The musical comedy, adapted mostly by Python's Eric Idle from the British comedy troupe's 1975 film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," runs through Aug. 24 at Beach Haven's venerable Surflight Theatre. Ostensibly, it is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights Of the Round Table. But that's akin to describing "Blazing Saddles" as a penetrating examination of the expansion of the American West. In reality, it is an orgy of sublime silliness wrapped around more clever dialogue and song lyrics than Broadway usually sees in a half-decade.

That "Spamalot" opens with a lavish salute to Finland tells you much of what you need to know about it. What, you may ask, does Finland have to do with Arthurian mythology? The answer is: nothing. And that's the point. This rousing sequence is a musical non sequitur that perfectly sets the tone for the glorious absurdity that follows.

Actually, the "Finland" number becomes a veritable paragon of logic when the plot crazily veers from Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail to his determination to mount a Broadway show - even though, as the script notes, it will be another 1,000 years before there is even such a thing as Broadway.

The jokes - visual, verbal, musical - seldom flag. The spoken lines are liberally lifted from the film (e.g., when the onstage narrator introduces Arthur's knights, he includes "the aptly named Sir Not Appearing in This Show"). The songs generally were composed for the live version; a notable exception is "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life," which Pythonites know comes from the 1979 flick, "Monty Python's Life of Brian."

The two standout numbers are "The Song That Goes Like This," a wonderfully bitchy (and completely accurate) send-up of the musical excesses and cliches of one Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The other is "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," a staggeringly funny bit that tweaks many cultural touchstones of a certain religion in a way that might seem a tad politically incorrect to more sensitive folks, but which is absolutely brilliant. Its many joys include a reminder of just how many words in the English language rhyme with "Jews."

Of course, all of this would be for naught if the cast and creative team weren't up to the task at hand. The Surflight crew delivers both in front of and behind the curtain.

The ensemble in this Actors Equity production is led by Broadway veteran Kelly Briggs, one of many New York performers who have cut their teeth at the Surflight. Briggs brings just the right touch of humorous, good-intentioned befuddlement to the role of King Arthur, and his vocals, while not quite awe-inspiring, are easily up to the task at hand.

As the mystical Lady of the Lake, Ali Gleason likewise displays an appealing comic flair, most notably in her second-act soliloquy, "Whatever Happened To My Part?"

Backstage, director Charlie Siedenburg keeps things moving smoothly on the smallish Surflight stage (occasionally, the action is forced into the aisles of the audience). And scenic designer Steven Lee Burright and costume coordinator Stacey Jeungling provide plenty of interesting and lively visuals.

Bottom line: Python humor may be an acquired taste, but in the able hands of the Surflight crowd, it's positively delicious.


Surflight Theatre, 201 Engleside Ave., Beach Haven, N.J., through Aug. 24, 2 and 8 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, $45, 609-492-9477, surflight.org.

ALW salute

Speaking of Andrew Lloyd Webber, New Hope's Rrazz Room cabaret is hosting a tribute to the world-conquering composer with a weekend engagement by Franc D'Ambrosio and Glory Crampton.

In case you don't recognize D'Ambrosio's name, be advised that he has performed as the Phantom in Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" more times - on Broadway and off - than any other actor (some 2,300 shows in the past 10 years). He also played Anthony, the opera-singing son of mob czar Michael Corleone, in "The Godfather III."

The program, which bears the somewhat cloying title, "Angel of Music," will highlight many of the composer's greatest hits from such shows as "Sunset Boulevard," "Evita," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and, of course, "Phantom."


The Rrazz Room, Ramada Hotel, 6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, Pa., 8 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday, $35 and $45, 888-596-1027, therrazzroom.com.


Email: darrowc@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-313-3134

On Twitter: @chuckdarrow

Blog: philly.com/Casinotes

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