New York City Theater
"Monty Python’s Spamalot"
For Monty Python fans, the silly new Broadway musical will be a kind of reunion. This “Spamalot” will bring back memories of the original British troupe and its 1975 cult film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” King Arthur and his knights, once more, galumph through the countryside searching for damsels in distress and missing vessels.
For the rest of us, this piece will be only sporadically amusing. No doubt it takes a special kind of mind-set to appreciate the Python humor, and much of it, for our money, falls flat. We appreciate the fact that British traditions and history come in for spoofing, but the spoofs, more often than not, register as odd rather than hilarious.
Eric Idle, one of the original troupe, has written the book and lyrics (and co-wrote the music with John Du Prez). As he acknowledges, he has “lovingly ripped off” much of the material from the film. King Arthur still recruits knights, searches for the grail, confronts the sneering French and sets up a very round table.
The current offering, having changed from film to musical, now features some 21 songs and large production numbers, complete with chorus cuties, which makes for a very busy time on stage. But director Mike Nichols keeps a firm hand on the proceedings, as it all moves back and forth freely in time.
In fact, much of the second act is given over to discussing and spoofing Broadway shows—a kind of “Forbidden Broadway.” When the knights recognize that they must have Jews for a Broadway show, for instance, “Spamalot” turns into “Fiddler on the Roof.” This “Spamalot” even stoops to audience participation, calling up a woman sitting in the A-1 seat, and serenading her on stage. Let’s face it. This is a zany free-for-all where anything goes.
The best of this “Spamalot,” in our view, are its marvelous costumes (rags never looked so good) and its clever sets. We never see God, but his huge feet drop from the sky. (His voice is supplied by John Cleese, one of the original Pythonites.)
Notable among the players are Tim Curry as a smug, self-satisfied King Arthur, Christian Borle as an endearing young Prince, and Hank Azaria as a suddenly-revealed gay knight. Sara Ramirez can belt out a song with the best of them, though her Lady of the Lake character is played too broadly. Finally, there is the marvelous Michael McGrath, who never misses a beat as Arthur’s much put-upon squire (appropriately named Patsy).
In all, much sound and fury and professional know-how has been expended on a show that, when all is said, adds up to little. Is “Spamalot” one more proof that the Broadway musical is on a downhill path?
-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 29, 2005