SDNN: Review of “ Spamalot ”
By Pat Launer
Suggested Title: Ham? A Lot, in “Monty Python’s Spamalot ”
Posted on 9/10/09
Beware the deadly Python strike. You’ll be smitten. Whether you’re a Monty Python fan or not, “Monty Python’s Spamalot ” kills. It’s goofy, silly, repetitive, derivative, self-referential and self-mocking, absurdly punny and preposterously over-the-top. Ya gotta love it.
The show, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005, is now on national tour, making a brief stop in San Diego (through Sunday only). “Lovingly ripped off from the motion picture,” as the creators boast, it’s based on the 1975 film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” With music. And below-the-belt humor (lots of it). And every shtick in the (Broadway) book.
Eric Idle, a founding member of the Oxford-educated, internationally famous comedy team of Monty Python (which was active from 1969-1983, and included Graham Chapman, John Cleese , Terry Jones, Michael Palin and the sole American, Terry Gilliam), wrote the book and lyrics for this manic mayhem, with music credits shared by composer John Du Prez .
It’s inspired insanity which, though set in England , 932 A.D., starts off with a rousing Finnish number (don’t ask). One of the singular challenges of the show must have been coming up with rhymes for Spamalot ; Idle’s lyric for the “Knights of the Round Table” number includes “we eat ham and jam a lot,” “I have to push the pram a lot” and my personal fave , “we sing from the diaphragm a lot.” If you get worn out by the inanity, you can always turn your attention to ticking off the number of knockoffs of Broadway blockbusters (nine or ten, at least), from “Fiddler” to “Chicago,” “The Boy from Oz” to “Les Miz ,” “Wicked” to “The Phantom” (fog, boat, falling chandelier and all).
Hard to believe a serious director like Mike Nichols helmed this crazy thing, but he won a Tony for his efforts. Having recently seen the movie, and being rather underwhelmed (I’m not a Snakehead, or whatever you call Python aficionados), I was a lot more engaged and amused by the show, which moves like lightning (especially in the first act) and barely gives you a moment to recover from one screwy scene before it’s off to the next. The clever-if-ridiculous book and lyrics skewer and pander to everyone: gays, Jews, musical theater lovers, Chaka Khan and Liza fans, even rap enthusiasts and audience participators. There’s no tern left unstoned . And if you’re a “Holy Grail” holy-roller, fear not: all your favorite scenes and lines are there. When the deadly Rabbit or the indestructible Black Knight or the foul-mouthed French guard appear, or the corpse-laden carts roll on, the audience howls and applauds, before a word is spoken or sung. Like vampire victims, the legions of the “I’m not dead” rise again and again to sing and dance.
It’s bigger and grander, more exaggerated and more extreme than the film (it has to play to the back row in a 3000-seat house like the Civic Theatre, after all), but it’s also funnier. The touring cast is solid, and to their immense credit, having been on the road for nine months, they still seem to be having a great time.
Christopher Gurr is an attractive King Arthur, though I have to believe that Tim Curry, who originated the role, commanded the stage more – both comically and vocally. Merle Dandridge, fresh from the Broadway production, which closed in January, is a hottie as the Lady of the Lake , she who gave Arthur the sword Excalibur and made him King. (It’s God, voiced by John Cleese , who sends him on the quest for the Holy Grail, but it’s the Lady and her backup broads, the Laker Girls, who help him along the journey). Dandridge’s voice is stunning and stratospheric, but she can also belt and growl and scat like a jazzstar .
The Knights are all comical: cowardly Sir Robin (James Beaman ) who can’t control his bodily functions in fearful moments; mustachioed Sir Bedevere (Lenny Daniel) who has a flatulence problem (see a pattern here?); hunky Sir Lancelot (Matthew Greer, also a hoot as The French Taunter and flying Tim the Enchanter), who finds his true identity after rescuing a dude in distress (Christopher Sutton as prancing Prince Herbert); and social activist Sir Dennis Galahad (Ben Davis, also memorable as The Black Knight and Prince Herbert’s Father).
The dancing is humorous and spoofy (expertly choreographed by Casey Nicholaw , who has directed at the La Jolla Playhouse and the Old Globe). The excellent ensemble stays immensely busy, getting in and out of the fabulous, fantastical getups created by set/costume designer Tim Hatley . The lighting (Hugh Vanstone) and special effects (Gregory Meeh ) are superb. There were some sound problems the night I was there, with mics going in and out at will. But the orchestra — four touring musicians, joined by five local ones — under the baton of Ben Whitely, has a big, brash, Broadway sound (orchestrations by Larry Hochman , arrangements by Glen Kelly).
So, what are you waiting for? The lunacy only lasts for a few days. Wouldn’t you like to be transported from your everyday environs into “a very expensive forest?” Just beware the Nih People. And oh yes, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
The national tour of “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” brought to us by Broadway San Diego
Note : For Mature Audiences only, “due to immature strong language and gestures.”
WHEN: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday matinee at 2 p.m., Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., through September 13
WHERE: Civic Theatre, 3rd & B St. downtown San Diego
CONTACT: (619) 570-1100 or Ticketmaster: (800) 982-2787; www.broadwaysd.com
MULTIMEDIA: Link to my sdnn Preview and the youtube /video therein