If any show's cast and crew had to practice what it preached, "Spamalot" had to look on the bright side of life Monday night. The Muny's opening night wasn't a sure thing -- delayed by rain, a soggy stage and lack of rehearsals due to inclement weather.
But precisely at 8:30 p.m., the nearly 7,000 people who came with umbrellas, towels and an indefatigable attitude sang the national anthem, and the venerable St. Louis summer institution kicked off its 95th season in jaunty fashion.
First, executive director Mike Isaacson wisecracked that the new fans weren't needed, then asked the audience to go easy on them due to the circumstances. "Welcome to the dress and tech rehearsal of 'Spamalot'!" he joked. The cast would make adjustments, depending on their safety, he said, as a few wet spots on the stage and on a ramp in front of the orchestra, were visible.
The show must go on, and the performers were eager to make the audience laugh. It was a joyous experience to look around and see people erupt into gales of laughter and have wide grins anticipating the Killer Rabbit, the Knights Who Say "Ni," The Black Knight and the "I Am Not Yet Dead" number.
Monty Python fans were treated to silly walks, French taunts, nimble wordplay and goofy songs parodying the legend of King Arthur, the "Camelot" myth, and the Middle Ages. Lovingly ripped off of the British comedy troupe's classic 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "Spamalot" won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005.
Pure nonsense, the show is chock-full of sight gags and improvised dialogue -- watch for not-so-subtle nods to this season -- and humorous local references abound. Performers break the fourth wall often -- for instance, the Lady of the Lake (Michele Ragusa, so funny in "Singin' in the Rain") sings "Diva's Lament -- What Happened to My Part?"
While the show was a little rough around the edges, the energetic cast gave it all they had -- and clearly had a blast. John O'Hurley, whose voice is heard round the world in TV commercials and programs, lent a regal air to King Arthur. His crisp comic timing -- after all, he is beloved as J. Peterman on "Seinfeld" --- was evident, and he displayed a nice baritone as well.
John Scherer, so delightful in "The Foreigner" at The Rep last year, was a hoot as the not-quite-as-brave Sir Robin, as was Muny veteran David Hibbard as the king's trusty servant Patsy. With his flair for accents and energy, Kevin Cahoon stole every scene as Not Dead Fred, the French Guard and Prince Herbert.
John O'Hurley said a few words after the curtain call, then introduced original Monty Pythonite Eric Idle, in town for the Muny premiere, to the roaring crowd.
Idle joked that as he watched the afternoon's monsoon, he figured he'd watch a game on TV that evening. He was amazed at how the Muny's crackerjack staff made the performance happen, and that we all came and had such a swell time. Then he led the crowd in a sing-along to "Always Look on th Bright Side of Life."
When: 8:15 nightly through June 23
Where: The Muny in Forest Park, St. Louis
Tickets: $12-$80 at The Muny Box Office (9 a.m.-9 p.m.); plus service charge if ordered through metrotix.com or 3140534-1111
Information: www.muny.org or call 314-361-1900.