Friday, February 22, 2008

Clay Aiken: Spamalot, a review

By Michael Kuchwara for the Associated Press

Clay Aiken Deftly Acts Supremely Silly

Let's clear things up right away: Clay Aiken can handle supremely silly.

That's not an inconsiderable talent when you are appearing in something as daffy as "Monty Python's Spamalot," the madcap medieval musical that has just added the "American Idol" alum to its cast.

We knew Aiken could sing. "Idol," television's favorite trial-by-fire, proved that. So it was only natural that Broadway, eager for new faces that might sell tickets, would call — just as it did for Fantasia, Frenchie Davis, Constantine Maroulis and others from "Idol."

But don't go expecting a star turn. Aiken is a team player — and that's meant as a compliment. The ingratiating performer fits seamlessly into the extended high jinks of "Spamalot," which has been running at the Shubert Theatre since March 2005.

The guy gets the goofy humor that is the Python trademark and goes with the flow, most prominently when he is portraying the perpetually petrified Sir Robin. It's one of three roles he plays in the musical.

Aiken also exudes the physical buffoonery that underlines the cartoonlike nature of the characters and their quest to find the Holy Grail. He radiates a delightful benign bewilderment. What's more, for someone born and raised in North Carolina, Aiken does a credible British accent.

And the rest of the production, directed by Mike Nichols, holds up quite nicely, too. The tale, concocted by "Python" legend Eric Idle, is loosely based on the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," and film buffs will recognize some of their favorite bits from the film. Idle also wrote the lyrics and shares credit with John Du Prez for the music.

If there is anything approaching show-stopper status in this "Spamalot," it's the performance by Hannah Waddingham as the Lady of the Lake. The statuesque Waddingham, who originated the role in the London production, is sensational. She's funny, sexy and blessed with one of those powerhouse voices that really shakes up the score.

But then Nichols and choreographer Casey Nicholaw have kept the musical in tiptop shape. From Jonathan Hadary's robust King Arthur to the preening Galahad of Christopher Sieber (an original New York cast member who recently returned to the show) to Rick Holmes' sexually fluid Lancelot, the cast gets a high amount of laughs from low comedy.

And then there's Tom Deckman as the hilariously fey Prince Herbert and David Hibbard as the aptly named Patsy, singing and tapping his way through the show's best known moment of musical cheer, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." This is ensemble comic lunacy at its most inspired.

But attention Aiken fans. He appears in "Monty Python's Spamalot" only through May 4.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

MICHAEL KUCHWARA has been the drama critic and drama writer for the Associated Press since 1984. Before being named to that position, he worked for the AP in Chicago as a general assignment editor and reporter and in New York on its General (now the National) Desk, the main editing desk for national news. Born in Scranton, Pa., he is a graduate of Syracuse University. Kuchwara also has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Kuchwara is a past president of the New York Drama Critics' Circle.