Theatre Review by Howard Miller - November 16, 2023
Monty Python's Spamalot. Book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. Based on the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Original screenplay by Graham Chapman, John Cleese Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes. Scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III. Costume design by Jen Caprio. Lighting design by Cory Pattak. Sound design Kai Harada and Haley Parcher. Hair and wig design by Tom Watson. Orchestrator Larry Hochman. Music arranger Glen Kelly. Music coordinator David Lai. Dialect coach Kate Wilson. Music direction and supervision by John Bell.
Happily, they're all present and accounted for: the Knights Who Say Ni, the Killer Rabbit, the renowned shrubbery, Tim the Enchanter, the French Taunter, and, of course, King Arthur, his faithful companion Patsy, the Knights of the Round Table, and the glorious Lady of the Lake who sets Arthur on the Quest for the Holy Grail. If all of this strikes a familiar chord, then rejoice. If not, then just go with the flow. Because this is a pig's heaven of a production of the musical that, as the program puts it, has been "lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
The screenplay for the 1975 film is credited to the original six members of the British comedy group Monty Python, whose off-the-wall satirical style was captured from 1969 to 1974 in the popular BBC television show, "Monty Python's Flying Circus." But when it came time to turn it into a musical, it was one of the sextet, Eric Idle, who stepped up to the plate, writing the book and lyrics and co-writing the music with John Du Prez, best known for his many film scores.
Turns out to have been a smart move, as the original 2005 Broadway production ran for close to 1,600 performances and walked off with 14 Tony nominations, with wins for Best Musical, Best Direction (by Mike Nichols), and Best Featured Actress for Sara Ramirez, who bowled everyone over with her portrayal of the Lady of the Lake. That particular baton has been passed, received, and is being carried like an Olympic champ by Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, who lights up the stage every time she shows up (which is not often enough, as she is quick to point out).
That would be King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart), whom we will meet shortly as he gathers together a band of knights to join him on his Holy Quest. But first, for something really completely different, the curtain opens on an entirely unexpected locale and an opening number that is as mystifying as it is uproariously funny. Hint: It's called the "Fisch Schlapping Song," and it has become yet another trademark of the Monty Python world, along with tins of Spam that give the musical its title as a portmanteau with "Camelot."
Spamalot is a model of non-sequitur off-the-skids sketch comedy at its finest and most outlandish, but I guess you could say there is a plot of sorts. Arthur and his servant Patsy (the always-delightful Christopher Fitzgerald) are trampling about the kingdom in search of would-be knights to round out the Round Table. Horses seemingly in short supply, one of Monty Python's old routines about the "Ministry of Silly Walks" has been dusted off and rejiggered to accommodate all of the galloping and cantering, which is done on foot to the rhythm of a pair of coconut shells that Patsy clacks together.
We in the audience might buy into this as a clever way to spare the expense of actual horses or elaborate puppetry, but those Arthur comes upon, such as Sir Robin (Michael Urie, who plays several roles that range from deadpan to outlandish, his Robin being among the former), are rather less impressed. "You're using coconuts!" he says in disbelief. "You've got two empty halves of coconuts and you're banging them together." This leads to a very funny debate over how it is that Arthur was able to acquire coconuts in the first place.
But I digress. Let's see, where was I? Something about Arthur gathering up knights. Oh, yeah. So Arthur manages to put together a crew (which includes Taran Killam as Sir Lancelot and Nik Walker as Sir Galahad) and reconnects with his old friend, the Lady of the Lake, who, with an assist by God (cameo voiced by Robin Williams, yet another wild and crazy guy), sends the crew off in search of the Holy Grail. Not to worry. It'll be found in time, though in an unexpected place that breaks whatever is left of the fourth wall.
In case you haven't gathered, Spamalot is nothing but digressions and tangential wanderings from one silly situation to another, aided and abetted by a series of terrific songs that fit perfectly in tone and style with the goings-on: "I Am Not Dead Yet," "The Song That Goes Like This" "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" and the uplifting "Find Your Grail." There's not a dull spot or misfire in the mix. Josh Rhodes directs and choreographs the evening with all the joy in the world, doing an exceptional job of keeping the dry humor dry and letting the outrageous side of the show go full bonkers. In the end, you will go dancing and whistling out to the street to the tune (and the message of) "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." It rarely gets any better than this.