Monty Python's Spamalot
Book & Lyrics by Eric Idle, Music by Eric Idle & John Du Prez
Directed by Mike Nichols
On Broadway at the Shubert Theatre
For tickets: telecharge.com
In short, Spamalot delivers. And here's one thing I thought I wouldn't say: thank god for the songs! Everything that is best about Spamalot is what's new, not what comes from the film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (in which, you may trust, Playgoer is well versed). Eric Idle and Mike Nichols have created something very distinct, something just a wee bit Python, and a lot... well, Mike Nichols.
As good and funny as Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, and Tim Curry are in their own rights, what they offer in the "book" portions of the show is essentially a high-rent karaoke of the movie. Anyone familiar with the original only hears what's missing of the Pythons' inimitable
insanity and the memory of hearing a line like "your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberry" the first time. Anyone oblivious to said film might still chuckle at the silliness of all this transposed dialogue (and, admittedly, many in the audience do more than chuckle), but if this were a "straight" dramatization of Holy Grail the show just would not be a hot ticket. (The very words dramatization and Monty Python just do not go together somehow.)
Hence, my slight disappointment for the first twenty minutes of the show, which--after a zany, though labored, non-sequitur of a curtain raiser--rehashes some of the movie's opening scenes. But then Nichols's forty-plus years of Broadway showmanship take over, and for the remainder of Act One you are in Musical Comedy Heaven. While gags about NBA "Laker Girls", Vegas casinos, and Andrew Lloyd Webber may seem beneath the talent involved, they embrace the silly task with such gusto, sending everything up so energetically, efficiently, and improbably that you just bathe in the ridiculousness of it all. One reason is Nichols knows to keep moving on before overkill is reached. Another is the contribution of relative newcomer choreographer Casey Nicholaw; his employment of the entire range of musical theatre gestures--from the parading of leggy chorus girls to the angular thrusts of Jerome Robbins lunges--gives Spamalot that extra savvy and, frankly, pizzazz. It's one of the ironies of good parody that it must love and even outdo the original.
Not coincidentally, the show settles into this glorious groove with the entrance of an entirely new character, Sara Ramirez's Lady of the Lake. The size of Ramirez's presence bursts out of her from the moment she appears and never lets up; her intensity is totally serious and totally ludicrous and totally on key--in short, the most Pythonesque performer on the stage, surprisingly. (Her Act Two front-of-curtain diva-ballad "What Ever Happened to My Part" is the most hilarious of the show's many metatheatrical commentaries, mostly because Ramirez can both mock and sell what the number is referencing so expertly.)