Don't let it be forgot,
At Toby's is a spot,
For happy ever-laughter-ing,
That is known as "Spamalot."
OK, that's spun outrageously from "Camelot" lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, but the current production of "Spamalot" at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia tends to place one in the mood for a bit of irreverence.
Monty Python's parody of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table — on a quest for the Holy Grail — was originally a 1975 movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," which became a musical with book and lyrics by Eric Idle, who also composed the music with John du Prez.
Mike Nichols directed the original Broadway show, which was nominated for 14 Tony Awards and won three, including best musical for the 2004-2005 season.
"Monty Python's Spamalot" ran for more than 1,500 performances on Broadway and has toured many U.S. cities and other countries.
Toby's offering is a polished, professional, fun-filled production. Its in-the-round setting brings audiences almost within touching distance of the action.
Toby's productions are consistently nominated for prestigious Helen Hayes awards, including this season.
"Spamalot" is riotous fun, with every cast member having at least as much fun as the audience in each zesty dance step and lusty chorus.
Director Mark Minnick's brisk pacing and comic timing bring the humor into sharp focus. Minnick has notable casting skills. Sometimes one actor is perfect for several roles, as is the case for reliable David Jennings, who plays a ridiculously haughty Frenchman, an imaginative Lancelot, a surprisingly lively Not Dead Fred and a fun-loving flying nun.
Minnick also serves as choreographer, brilliantly designing dances for Toby's space so that the intricate moves are visible from every seat. These hoofers are in joyous sync in the hysterically irreverent "I Am Not Dead Yet" and most notably in the show-stopping "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" — guaranteed to brighten everyone's mood.
Other off-stage notables include musical director Ross Scott Rawlings, who brings zest and heart to enliven the score; Coleen M. Foley, who creates fabulous lighting for every scene; and David A. Hopkins, who serves the audience masterful scene design.
Tim Hatley's original costumes are brilliantly coordinated by Lawrence Munsey and Marianne Van Stee to give performers zest, pizazz and sparkle.
Munsey also heads the cast as King Arthur, commanding the stage while hinting his amusement at his advanced status. A leading man who is also a gifted ensemble player, Munsey relates naturally to sidekick Patsy, perfectly played by Jeffrey Shankle, and to Priscilla Cuellar's enchanting Lady of the Lake. And Munsey's warm baritone does justice to his every song in solo and duet.
Cuellar delivers a striking performance as a charismatic Lady, displaying sharp comedic skill and stunning vocal versatility. She proves a diva deft in comedy in her solo "The Diva's Lament," perhaps the high point in her evening of peaks.
A fabulous dance troupe delivers sparkling numbers, including the Laker Girls in "Come with Me," an impassioned group of knights and Grail girls in "Find Your Grail," and the hilarious "His Name is Lancelot," revealing added dimensions of the romantic Frenchman.
Deserving star billing is Darren McDonnell, who is brilliant in multiple roles, including Sir Robin, Brother Maynard, the French Taunter and Sir Lancelot, among others.
Nick Lehan shows his versatility as Sir Dennis Galahad, Black Knight and Prince Herbert's Father. Reliable Toby's actor Shawn Kettering plays Mayor, Dennis' Mother and Sir Bedevere.
Also noteworthy is the ensemble of players, including Heather Beck, Michelle Brandenburg, Jay Garrick, Ben Gibson, Amanda Kaplan, Rachel Kemp, Jimmy Mavrikes, Ariel Messeca, Jamie Ogdon, Dann Tippett and A.J. Whittenberger.
Audiences can find complete entertainment in an evening at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, from dinner to a first-rate show guaranteed to bring laughter throughout the performance and in memories to warm those winter evenings ahead.
Toby's is located at 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia. For showtimes, reservations and ticket information call 410-730-8311.