FORT WORTH -- Self-consciousness has seldom been so funny.
Monty Python's Spamalot, which opened an eight-performance run at Bass Hall on Tuesday, is a musical that knows that it is a musical.
Eric Idle's stage version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail artfully works both ends against the middle. It exploits about every opportunity that a piece of musical theater can offer, all the while laughing at itself for being a musical. One of the show's big numbers, for example, is The Song That Goes Like This -- a tune that explains that it must show up at this point in the show even though it has nothing at all to say.
Fans of Idle and his fellow silly Brits will enjoy seeing and hearing some of their favorite bits (such as the taunting Frenchmen and a homicidal rabbit) in a slightly different context and often expanded with musical embellishments. Among the most winning numbers are I'm Not Dead Yet (maybe not, but he is not at all well) and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, a twisted bit of musical advice taken from the Python's best film, Life of Brian.
This is well-proven comedy. It was funny when we first saw it on TV in the 1970s, funnier still when we saw it in movie theaters, and the stage version has been a runaway hit since it debuted on Broadway in 2005. So any production of Spamalot has a wind at its back.
But, even taking that head start into account, this production more than does justice to the material. The players bring the right touch to their roles, the costumes are spot on, the choreography is great fun, the pit orchestra (while not note-perfect) plays with gusto, and the very expensive forest, one of many colorful and vibrant sets, looks like it is worth every penny.
Among the standouts in the cast is Brittany Woodrow as the Lady of the Lake. She dominates the first act with a devastating sendup of an over-reaching pop diva, complete with overwrought, American Idol-style deliveries. In Act Two, she makes the most of one of the show's "we're in a musical, aren't we" moments by bitterly singing The Diva's Lament -- a song that asks the burning question, "Why the heck haven't I been on stage in the second act?"
Arthur Rowan (can that really be his first name?) is a fine King Arthur, managing to be both dignified and ridiculous at the same time. Michael Berry scores points as his coconut-clopping sidekick, Patsy. And Jacob L. Smith as Galahad and Kasidy Devlin as Sir Robin are the best knights of the night.
And an unexpected plus in an already great-looking show is the use of a half-dozen fetching chorines, who often wear much less than their chain-mail-clad counterparts. Their presence gives this production an element of sex appeal that Monty Python never had.
So there is a lot to like and little to fault in this relentlessly silly pursuit of a cup that God (who appears in the form of Idle's recorded voice) was sloppy enough to misplace. And be aware that no Finns were injured in the making of this production.