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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

When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle!
And. . . always look on the bright side of life.

Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce
Tim Curry (rear), David Hyde Pierce & Hank Azaria
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
There was a time when spam brought visions of a glutinous, canned lunch meat. That was before the anti-cholesterol police went on the march. There's also the spam that clutters your e-mail box with unwanted messages about cures for erectile dysfunction and pleas for urgent assistance from people from unknown countries.

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.

Christopher Sieber as Sir Dennis Galahad &  Sara Ramirez as The Lady of the Lake
Christopher Sieber as Sir Dennis Galahad & Sara Ramirez as The Lady of the Lake
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Nichols has further enhanced and embellished the show with a ravishing diva, Sara Ramirez, whose big belting voice I've previously admired in A Class Act on Broadway and a fine regional premiere of a musical version of Liaison Dangereuses (The Game).

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.

Book & Lyrics: Eric Idle
Songs: Idle and John Du Prez
Director: Mike Nichols.
Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Cast: David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin, Guard 1 and Brother Maynard), Tim Curry (King Arthur), Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot, the French Taunter, Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter), Christopher Sieber (Sir Dennis Galahad, the Black Knight and Prince Herbert's Father), Michael McGrath (Mayor, Patsy and Guard 2), Steve Rosen (Dennis's Mother, Sir Bedevere and Concorde), Christian Borle (Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard, Minstrel and Prince Herbert) and Sara Ramirez (the Lady of the Lake).
Ensemble: Brad Bradley, Thomas Cannizzaro, Kevin Covert, Jennifer Frankel, Lisa Gajda, Jenny Hill, Emily Hsu, Abbey O'Brien, Ariel Reid, Greg Reuter, Brian Shepard, Scott Taylor (also dance captain).
Swings: Pamela Remler (also dance captain), Rick Spaan
Set & Costume Design: Tim Hatley
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: ACME Sound Partber
Music Director: Todd Ellison
Special Effects Design: Gregory Meeh
Projection Design: Elaine J. McCarthy
Orchestrations:Larry Hochman
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, includes intermission.
Schubert, 225 West 44th Street (Broadway/ 8th Avenue) 212/239-6200
From 3/22/05; opening 3/17/05.
Mon through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed & Sat @ 2:00PM, beginning 3/22/05 Tues @ 7:00PM,
Tickets: Orchestra: $101.25, Mezzanine: $101.25, $86.25; Balcony: $66.25, $36.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 23rd performance
Closing 1/18/09 i, after 1,582 performances and 35 previews.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture
  • Fisch Schlapping Song . Historian, Mayor, Villagers
  • King Arthur's Song . King Arthur, Patsy
  • I Am Not Dead Yet . Not Dead Fred,Kance Robin and Bodies
  • Come With Me . King Arthur, Lady of the Lake and Laker Girls
  • The Song That Goes Like This . Sir Galahand and Sir Bedevere
  • All for One . King Arthur ,Sir Robin, Sir Lancelot, SirGalahad and Sir Bedevere
  • Knights of the Round Table . Lady of the Lake, King Arthur, Patsy,Sir Robin, Sir Galahad, Sir Bedevere and the Camelot Dancers
  • The Song That Goes Like This (reprise) . Lady of the Lake
  • Find Your Grail . Lady of the Lake . King Arthur, Patsy, Sir Robin, Sir Galahad, Sir Bedevere, Knights and Grail Girls
  • Run Away . French Taunters, King Arthur, Patsy, Sir Robin, Sir Galahad, Sir Bedevere, French Guards and French Citizens
Act Two
  • Always Look on the Bright Side of Life . Patsy, King Arthur, Knights and The Knights of Ni
  • Brave Sir Robin . Sir Robin and Minstrels
  • You Won't Succeed On Broadway . Sir Robin and Ensemble
  • The Diva's Lament . Lady of the Lake
  • Where Are You? . PrinceHerbert
  • Here Are You . PrinceHerbert
  • His Name is Lancelot . Sir Lancelot, Prince Herbert and Ensemble
  • I'm Always Alone . King Arthur, Patsy and Knights
  • The Song That Goes Like This (reprise) . Lady of the Lake
  • The Holy Grail . King Arthur, Patsy and Knights
  • Find Your Grail Finale - Medley . The Company
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