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'Monty Python's Spamalot' at Gateway

A scene from

A scene from "Monty Python's Spamalot" at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts through July 30, 2011. Credit: Phoenix Entertainment

Sometimes we just need to laugh ourselves silly.

"Monty Python's Spamalot" gallops giddily across the stage of the Patchogue Theater in blessed relief from a ghastly news cycle.

It's worth recalling that Monty Python brought its sacred-cow-slaying brand of humor to the English-speaking world amid cultural and geopolitical upheaval. By the time "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" -- on which this 2005 best musical Tony winner is based -- came to the big screen in 1975, the film's namesake Oxbridge boys (plus one Yankee) were already comedy establishment. Former hippies have forgiven their success while reveling in subsequent iterations of Python impudence, impiety and imperturbable instinct for a cheap laugh.

"Spamalot," breezily directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews for Gateway Playhouse, is loosely based on the legend of King Arthur and his quest for the grail -- the cup from which Jesus sipped wine at the Last Supper.

Arthur, an endearingly hapless straight man as played by Peter Simon Hilton, can't recruit enough knights to fill a Round Table. And those he finds are absurdly ineffectual. Matthew Crowle as Sir Robin has bowel issues that call his courage into question. Andrew Kober as Sir Galahad can't abide his son's taste in curtains (Brian Golub, in one of several over-the-top roles), while hunk-worthy John Rochette as Sir Lancelot ("He fills his pants a lot," the lyric goes) learns something about his personal life.

Coleen Sexton as the Lady of the Lake -- she inspired Arthur's king-making Excalibur feat -- chews scenery like bubble gum and blows it up in such self-referential numbers as "Diva's Lament."

Inevitably, some scenes can't hold a candle to the Python original. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," a whistling tune you might find yourself humming on the way out, is hilarious in its "Life of Brian" film context -- sung in Crucifixion trinity. Here, Arthur and his slavish servant (Jeremy Morse) are merely lost in the woods before they confront their next challenge -- producing a musical without Jews (very funny).

Tim Hatley's Broadway set and costumes provide dizzy visual enhancement (lit by Doug Harry), while Jeff Hoffman's orchestra is in on the joke with purposeful sour notes amid on-key expectations.

It's not giving away too much to reveal the gay-wedding improvisation in which Hilton's Arthur remarks, "This will still be controversial in a thousand years," adding with a wink, "but not to you, New York!"

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