Directed by Mike Nichols
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle
Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
"Monty Python's Spamalot" is the musical stage version of the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." Although Eric Idle was the creative force behind the stage play, none of the original Pythons appear in the musical. Instead their roles are taken by a talented cadre which includes Tim Curry replacing the late Graham Chapman as King Arthur, Hank Azaria taking many of the roles initially played by John Cleese, and David Hyde Pierce in the roles of Eric Idle. Other roles from the film are played by their supporting cast, and Sara Ramirez does a wonderful job playing a variety of female roles.
Fortunately, the play does stray from the source material. In writing "Spamalot," Idle borrowed from other classic Python routines, from the opening "Fisch Schlapping Song" to the use of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," and various throw-away lines in between. These bits are generally well integrated into the play and none are particularly out of place.
The Pythons, of course, are iconic iconoclasts, and the play doesn't shirk from attacking the live musical theatre, with such songs as "The Song That Goes Like This," "The Diva's Lament," and Sir Robin's second act show-stopper "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." In addition, the actors are frequently allowed to recognize the fact that they are on stage in a play, and just as easily permitted to return to the reality of the strange world they inhabit.
Tim Curry has been cast as King Arthur, essentially the straight man in the musical and his vast talents are underused. In contrast, David Hyde Pierce does an excellent job and from his very first line draws laughs with lines which the audience will be familiar with from the film as well as new material. Hank Azaria begins the play slowly, but quickly warmed to his character, although his big number in the second act, "His Name Is Lancelot" will bring comparisons to his scene-stealing appearance as Agador in "The Birdcage." Sara Ramirez does duty as nearly all of the female soloists and demonstrates her ability with arias, production numbers, and, in a highlight of the first act the torch song "Burn Her!"*
Many of the film's memorable scenes are present, from the taunting at the French castle, to the "Knights of the Round Table" production number. The Black Knight sequence is well realized, as are the Knights Who Say "Ni." Nevertheless, the play is at its strongest when it introduces new material. This material is as funny as the old standbys, with the additional benefit of being fresh.
With the exception of Curry, all of the major cast members must handle multiple parts, and Christopher Sieber has an excellent handle of the vain Sir Dennis Galahad, a combination of two characters from the film. Steve Rosen's Bedevere is not given much to do in the course of the play, much as Bedevere didn't do much during the film. Both actors, however, handle their multiple roles with aplomb and the make-up is such that it isn't always clear which actors are playing which roles.
In adapting "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" to the stage, Idle was clearly aware that when dealing with something with such a large cult following as the film, the audience would be more than ready to join in with the familiar, and he included a couple of segments in the play which allow for audience participation. Even when audience participation was not encouraged, many of the audience members were mouthing the words in anticipation of lines which were to come.
Not all of the sequences played out well. The scene in which Lancelot (Azaria) rescues Prince Herbert (Christian Borle) from Swamp Castle runs a little long, however the payoff, a large production number, makes the time spent in the scene worthwhile. Similarly, Sara Ramirez's initial appearance as the cow in the French castle scene seems to be an unnecessary detour until the staging of "The Cow Song"* redeems the set up and leads to the first act finale.
Fans of the film will enjoy the musical for the familiarity as well as the liberties taken with it and fans of silliness will also find the musical an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Given the amount of satire on Broadway which is included in the play, a familiarity with musicals will heighten the entertainment offered by the cast and the play, but "Spamalot" is a wonderful play which will leave a smile on the attendees' faces.
|Hank Azaria||Sir Lancelot, etc.|
|Christian Borle||Prince Herbert, etc.|
|Tim Curry||King Arthur|
|David Hyde Pierce||Sir Robin, etc.|
|Michael McGrath||Patsy, etc.|
|Sara Ramirez||The Lady of the Lake, etc.|
|Steve Rosen||Sir Bedevere, etc.|
|Christopher Sieber||Sir Dennis Galahad, etc.|
* I have been informed that later in the try-out run, the songs "Burn Her" and "The Cow Song" were removed from the show and the show as a whole was shortened.