Friday, February 22, 2008

Clay Aiken: Supremely Silly

An Associated Press Theater Review

Clay Aiken deftly handles supremely silly in `Monty Python's Spamalot'


Let's clear things up right away: Clay Aiken can handlesupremely silly.That's not an inconsiderable talent when you are appearing insomething as daffy as "Monty Python's Spamalot," the madcap medieval musicalthat has just added the "American Idol" alum to its cast.We knew Aiken couldsing. "Idol," television's favorite trial-by-fire, proved that. So it was onlynatural that Broadway, eager for new faces that might sell tickets, would call —just as it did for Fantasia, Frenchie Davis, Constantine Maroulis and othersfrom "Idol."But don't go expecting a star turn. Aiken is a team player — andthat's meant as a compliment. The ingratiating performer fits seamlessly intothe extended high jinks of "Spamalot," which has been running at the ShubertTheatre since March 2005.The guy gets the goofy humor that is the Pythontrademark and goes with the flow, most prominently when he is portraying theperpetually petrified Sir Robin. It's one of three roles he plays in themusical.Aiken also exudes the physical buffoonery that underlines thecartoonlike nature of the characters and their quest to find the Holy Grail. Heradiates a delightful benign bewilderment. What's more, for someone born andraised in North Carolina, Aiken does a credible British accent.And the rest ofthe production, directed by Mike Nichols, holds up quite nicely, too. The tale,concocted by "Python" legend Eric Idle, is loosely based on the movie "MontyPython and the Holy Grail," and film buffs will recognize some of their favoritebits from the film. Idle also wrote the lyrics and shares credit with John DuPrez 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, issensational. She's funny, sexy and blessed with one of those powerhouse voicesthat really shakes up the score.But then Nichols and choreographer CaseyNicholaw have kept the musical in tiptop shape. From Jonathan Hadary's robustKing Arthur to the preening Galahad of Christopher Sieber (an original New Yorkcast member who recently returned to the show) to Rick Holmes' sexually fluidLancelot, the cast gets a high amount of laughs from low comedy.And then there'sTom Deckman as the hilariously fey Prince Herbert and David Hibbard as the aptlynamed Patsy, singing and tapping his way through the show's best known moment ofmusical cheer, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." This is ensemble comiclunacy at its most inspired.But attention Aiken fans. He appears in "MontyPython's Spamalot" only through May 4.

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.

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