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Mike Nolan and Michael Bajjally in Spamalot. Photo by Michele Slaughter

By Kay Kipling

The long and frequently hysterical era of performances by the original Monty Python troupe may be over after last summer’s “retirement” shows aired around the world. But the spirit of this groundbreaking comedic company lives on, thanks to DVDs, CDs, books and, yes, the Broadway musical Monty Python's Spamalot, now onstage at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in a Manatee Players production.

The show had a successful run at Florida Studio Theatre last season, and it’s bound to pop up again at community theaters around town. But the Manatee Players, under the direction of newcomer (but theater veteran) Kathy Pingel, have set the bar pretty high for staying true to, and getting the most out of, the material here.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 years or so, Spamalot is “lovingly ripped off” from the classic film the Monty Python and the Holy Grail, taking us to the time of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they search for that elusive cup. Years later, Pythoner Eric Idle and his writing partner, John Du Prez, brought it to the stage with many of the familiar bits intact, but also with new songs and the addition of some pokes at the conventions of Broadway musicals to garner more laughs.

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Bajjaly, Michelle Anaya and Nolan. Photo by Michele Slaughter

For many of the actors in the Manatee Players show, Spamalot seems freewheeling fun—a chance to play several vastly different characters, or to really kick out the jams with outrageous accents or physicality. Michael Bajjaly is the stalwart but a bit dim Arthur, trotting along nobly to the coconuts employed to represent horses’ hooves by his loyal Patsy (Mike Nolan). Brian Craft is the earnest historian, the determined Not Dead Fred, and the unwilling-to-wed Prince Herbert; William E. Masuck the “homicidal maniac” Sir Lancelot, the French taunter (always a fave scene), the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter. (Masuck is definitely working overtime here, but enjoying it.) Tristan Martin is the cute young Dennis Galahad (the ranting commune member turned knight), as well as Herbert’s angry father (another classic scene with those befuddled guards); Dave Downer the cowardly but show biz-savvy Sir Robin; and Jason Moore Dennis’ mother, the flatulent Sir Bedevere and Lancelot’s arrow-taking servant Concorde.

They’re supported by a strong ensemble, portraying everything from nuns to Vegas-y showgirls to fellow and rival knights, along with assured musical direction by Rick Bogner and his orchestra. Vanessa Russo’s choreography really adds to the silliness of the musical numbers, whether on Laker Girls, Knights of the Round Table or His Name is Lancelot. And Michelle Anaya delivers with zest as the Lady of the Lake, inspirational (Find Your Grail) and petulant (The Diva’s Lament) by turns.

The production looks good, too, thanks to costumes by Becky Evans and the scenery and projections designed by Marc Lalosh. The end result? While Spamalot is a show I’ve seen a number of times, with routines I’ve seen scores of times, I was still entertained and happy to see it again here.

Spamalot continues through May 17; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeperformingartscenter.com.

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