- Monty Python's Spamalot (2004) [Stage Musical]
Review: Monty Python's Spamalot
2 / 5 Stars
Wedged in between The Boys of Knowledge, Lantinologues, The Producers and the latest revival of Fiddler on the Roof with Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O'Donnell on 44th Street in Manhattan lies the latest film-cum-Broadway show, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Packed into the Schubert Theatre, 1500 people a night watch as the cast, headed by Tim Curry as King Arthur, wreak havoc on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, as well as every Broadway stereotype known to man (or woman).
The show opens with your Shakespearean narration of the introduction, and degrades into your first Pythonesque moment of "Finland, Finland, Finland", which if you're paying attention, never showed up in the film, although the credits were slightly similar in reference (don't worry, there are many moments like this to come). The enjoyable tie in, was that the Playbill was also in on the joke, including notes for this Norwegian diversion, including full cast and credits. The bulk of the cast is then slowly introduced in the next couple of numbers, with the opening "Not Dead Yet" paralleling the Dead Collector scenes in the film where David Hyde Pierce, of "Frasier" fame takes Eric Idle's roles from the film, here as brave Sir Robin.
The show then digresses to the newer parts written to make this Broadway show, well, the show. Missing are the more subtler barbs and jokes from some of the more memorable moments in the film, including the witch weighing of Sir Belevedere. "The Song That Goes Like This" is your poke at every Broadway power ballad, and for those who are regular show goers, allowed for the regularly emitted chuckle for being in on the joke. You'd need a firm understanding of both the King Arthur legend and Monty Python's take on that legend to keep you informed as to what was happening to this point.
Finally, one-third of the way through, the show catches it breath and brings things back to something more comprehensible and recognizable in "The Nights of the Round Table". This could have been an excerpt from Terry Jones' The Meaning of Life's "Every Sperm Is Sacred" musical number, with all the effort to put as many sight gags in view of the audience in five minutes as possible. In this version of Camelot, it's a spitting image of Las Vegas, with the reference to the round table running more along the roulette type than those of which you'd share a pitcher of grog around. Unfortunately for the purchasers of the CD, not only do you miss the sight gags that make the music and songs bearable this far, but some of the supposed ad-libs by the cast are missing on the recording.
By this point, I can say every one in the cast had a great singing voice and could ham it up for the audience, including Sara Ramierez who stars as the Lady of the Lake. I was left wanting for having Graham Chapman as my King Arthur, who, as compared to Curry, seemed to have better comic timing and presence. However, luckily, the second funniest part in the show was up next… the confrontation with the French Taunters, with comparable excellent use of props and staging (which included front projection on the stage scrim of various items being hurled at the escaping knights from the French Castle). The Trojan Bunny was the largest stage piece, minus the bookending parapets seemingly glued to each edge of the stage (obstructing at least a few theatre-goers views), and elicited the most laughs of any sight gag rolled out on the stage.
For me, upon returning from the intermission for Act III (well, it was corrected by the hand of God to read Act II before things started again), was the rip-off of "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" from the end of The Life of Brian to cheer up King Arthur after losing most of his knights throughout the show (how… it was never explained) after encountering the Knight Who Say Ni. To allow for some of us to return back to the original film version, the "Brave Sir Robin" song re-introduced us to the under-utilized David Hyde Pierce, as a Broadway yearning knight who sings the funniest song in the show, "You Won't Succeed on Broadway"…without any Jews. This rivaled the production of "Knights of the Round Table" in sheer cast on stage and sight gags, including the most amount of dancing per number. Here's also where I think composer John DuPrez and Eric Idle spent the most time writing the music and lyrics, as it is the most developed idea in the whole show, and more than a nod to the cross street rivals The Producers.
As not to forget to mention, for those who are fans of The Black Night, his scene was squeezed in between "Always Look the Bright Side of Life" and this latter number. We aslo get a lung busting, scene-stealing ballad from the Lady of the Lake (minus her Laker Girls this time), "Whatever Happened To My Part", which did not need to be in the show. Much like the critical barbs taken to "The Meaning of Life", this point in the show has you making direct comparisons to the disjointed segues and scenes that made up that film. This just comes across as too many ideas trying to be jammed into the two plus hours of the show.
Just as you begin to doze off and wonder if there are any ways of this resembling the film it's supposedly based on, you see a castle set and wonder if we will see scenes from Castle Anthrax and the grail shaped beacon. If you guessed that, you'd be wrong, as we get Prince Herbert outing Sir Lancelot as a disco loving gay knight in need of a life-companion. Luckily in this disastrous scene, we get some of the best of the Pythons' writing with the exchange between Swamp King and his guards, no singing, no music, but comic perfection. If there was a bit less wall-to-wall music and a more sparing mesh of the original dialogue exchanges between those numbers, I think I could have at least found something that was truly great, but in return found just something mediocre.
However, rather than to blame Eric Idle's attempt at cashing in on his work with The Pythons (thankfully we still have Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam doing original work), the overreaching pundits of this show, and those like it as examples of "fresh ideas" and the "future of Broadway", are real ones to blame. If the New York Theatre District only survives on lukewarm retreads and revivals of films and former hits, we will continue to see the overall quality of productions decline in the oncoming years. The sight gags were funny, the lyrics, when understood, could elicit the chuckle or two, but the flow of the show was too jarring to make me want to really recommend seeing this. Maybe I'm a purist, but I did enjoy The Producers, a film turned to musical that made it big by staying true to its roots but still managed to poke fun at the community it was lampooning.
For those who haven't gotten to see this show, I would recommend holding off until it ends it's New York run, and make a trip to Las Vegas - casino mogul Steve Wynn has secured the next round to an exclusive run in one of his casinos for next couple of years. For purchasers of the CD, you'll be left out as well, since as I mentioned, this has none of the dialogue that was in the show and strips much of what was good from the production, so skip it, really, skip it (that is, unless you like cast photos). Truly this show is dead and not just pining for the fjords.
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