Spermalot: The Musical (Rehearsal Edition)

I first met Thatcher Williams in the 2007 Iowa Fringe Festival: since my road trip was taking me through Des Moines, I looked him up to see if he’d be interested in going out for a drink or something, and was delighted to be invited to one of his final rehearsals of Spermalot, which is playing at the Minnesota Fringe.

With the caveat that what I witnessed was only a rehearsal, sans costumes and, well, audience (comedy without an audience is something akin to professional wrestling without an audience), I’m prepared to state that it’s exactly what the title sounds like, and for me that was A Good Thing. The songs in particular are excellent, effectively parodying a variety of musical-theatre styles. The awkward, artificial choreography is a very old joke, but the reason it’s an old joke is because it’s a very good joke, and a funny one. (Also, the two female cast members totally shone, both in singing and comedy chops.)

(On the other hand, the comedy dialogues that interspersed the songs could be hit-or-miss for me: it’s faithful to the parody, with that dopey, obvious, presentational kind of comedy, but could occasionally fall into being as wince-inducing as the stuff they’re ridiculing.)

The puppetry work was interesting: all of the main characters are played by hand-held puppets, which are held up next to the actors’ faces, presumably to take advantage of both: the quirky movements of the sperm bodies and the expressiveness of the actors’ faces. This was about halfway successful for me. I found myself wanting more movement from the various spermatazoa (and if I had a nickel for every time I’d written that sentence, I’d have, uh, one nickel), but often they would simply be bobbing in space or just opening and closing their mouths. So while the actors had extremely animated faces and necks, the puppets would often be sitting limply by their sides, which feels like a bit of a missed comic opportunity.

Still — it’s Spermalot. It’s dumb, it’s dorky, it’s entertaining. And I’d totally buy a soundtrack if they had one.

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