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A CurtainUp Review
Monty Python's Spamalot
The Musical "Lovingly" ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail
By Elyse Sommer
And then there's the first half of the title of the new Broadway musical that bills itself as "lovingly ripped off from the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The show thus titled -- a conflation of "we eat ham and jam and spam a lot," a line from the song "The Knights of the Round Table" -- has become the season's smash box office hit faster than you can say "Ni."
If you splurge on a ticket (provided that you can get one), be prepared to fully embrace its silliness if you want to find the show's real holy grail -- an enjoyable two hours of lowbrow skitcom humor elevated to high-priced entertainment with a star-studded cast and sky-high production values with King Arthur and his knights who "many times are given rhymes that are quite un-singable" and who "dance when e'er they're able."
Not a Pythomaniac who'll have a giggle fit just hearing the word "Ni" or a mention of a deadly rabbit? Saw neither the movie from which Spamalot is indeed "ripped off" or any of the 45 TV episodes? No matter. The antics on display don't require a degree in Pythonic lunacy for anyone to follow the idiot's delight sketches strung together into an ever so slight plot. You may actually get more of a fresh charge following the current King and his kooky men's physical and verbal shenanigans if you don't know exactly what to expect. Besides, director Mike Nichols has created an all-audience appealing combination of film adaptation and the ever more popular Allusionary Musical (you know, the kind with more than a few easy-to-spot visual and vocal references to well-known other shows and performance styles).
The nutty mood is established even as you thumb stumble across the extra pages in your Playbill about a foreign language "Moosical." This is not just a case of having spent your C-note on the wrong show but a set-up for the historian-narrator's solemn "For this was England" introduction to having the ensemble hilariously land in a country that rhymes with but isn't England.
King Arthur's (Tim Curry) journey to recruit warriors for his kingdom (which here is Camelot-cum-Caesar's Palace) has him and his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza -- oops, I mean Patsy (Michael McGrath) -- clop-clop-clopping through the starting gate on their non-existent horses The quest for a Holy Grail changes from a holy chalice for God (a voiceover role for original Pythonite John Cleese) to shrubbery and then putting on a show and taking it to Broadway for the Knight of Ni (Hank Azaria). That final permutation of the grail abets the show's allusionary fun, notably a sendup of Andrew Lloyd Webber's never-ending, much reprised arias ("The Song that Goes Like This") and the knights doing a "bottle dance" from Fiddler on the Roof ("You Won't Succeed On Broadway") as well as a Peter Allen crossed with Las Cage Aux Folles rhumba carnival ("His Name Is Lancelot").
While the Python TV episodes succeeded without splashy production values, there's no question that Tim Hatley's sets and costumes provide much of the bang you get for your big bucks ticket. And not to take anything from the original performers' superior Python nuttiness, director Nichols has assembled a terrific cast. Except for Tim Curry. they handily sing, dance (bravo to choreographerCasey Nicholaw on his Broadway debut) and clown their way through multiple roles.
Curry's brings his rich voice to the jovial if not too bright King. He's got a perfect loyal sidekick in Michael McGrath. Christopher Sieber is especially good as Sir Galahad of the much tossed about golden tresses. Hank Azaria navigates with ease from Sir Lancelot to the French Taunter to the Knight of Ni and Tim, the Enchanter. And what fun to see David Hyde Pierce abandon the uptight Dr. Niles Frasier of the long running TV series to join in the singing and dancing. He may not be a natural song and dance man and yet his timid sir Robin's low key delivery of "You Won't Succed on Broadway" (. . .You may fill your plays with gays/Have Nigerian girls in stays/ Yo may even have some shiksas making stews/ You haven't got a clue/If you don't have a Jew. . .) deservedly stops the show at the top of the second act.
The songs are part of the " ripped off" material aren't exactly classics, but they work well in this somewhat changed concept. Eric Idle and his musical partner John Du Prez have been especially smart in turning "Always Look On the Bright Side " into Spamalot's upbeat hummable anthem (It is actually from another Python film The Life of Brian, and had the sungers sardonically strapped to crosses).
Is Spamalot the great new back to the golden age musical we've all been waiting for? No. But like the latest jukebox musical, All Shook Up, (review) it's an old- fashioned, good time show. Nothing to sneeze at these days when the morning headlines are more cause for belly aches than belly laughs.
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