‘Ni’ business like show business in Spamalot
Monty Python’s Spamalot (at the Opera House through January 27) bills itself as “lovingly ripped off” from the low-budget 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But if the 2005 Tony-winning musical has one hand in the Pythons’ own till, it has the other crammed deep in the cookie jar of Broadway. With its lavishly cheesy sets and costumes, its overblown comic choreography, and its winking references to Broadway mastodons from The Phantom of the Opera to Fiddler on the Roof, Spamalot is twisted Arthurian legend married to Forbidden Broadway in a ceremony that manages to call attention to its tackiness and its extravagance at the same time. Python fans will not be disappointed: the clopping-coconut horses’ hooves, raspberry-blowing French Taunter, bearded Knights Who Say ‘Ni,’ and viciously decapitating puppet bunny rabbit are all here. But so is a gleeful lampoon of big-budget Broadway.
Spamalot initially played Boston in 2006 at the outset of its national tour, and unless you’re the sort who starts giggling in mere anticipation of the hoary Python routines (a few of them lovingly ripped off from The Life of Brian), its inspired silliness was funnier the first time. The book by Python stalwart Eric Idle is not just ridiculous but arbitrary, meandering in the second act from the search for the Holy Grail to a quest to get to Broadway. The score by John Du Prez and Idle is hardly memorable. Its tonsil-taxing best number is the self-referential “The Song That Goes like This,” not-so-lovingly ripped off from the portentous love ballads of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Frank Wildhorn (and sung — the first time — by the Lady of the Lake and newly minted Sir Galahad while cruising through a dry-ice sea under a conveniently flown-in chandelier). And let’s face it: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” though catchy enough to be reprised as a curtain-call sing-along, is not as funny when not warbled by men on crosses. Still, there’s no denying that Spamalot is a lot of cheeky fun wrapped into what might be regarded as cogent criticism of a genre whose guiding lights have morphed from Lerner and Loewe to Lloyd Webber and Mel Brooks.
The touring cast is still led by Michael Siberry as a substantial if hangdog King Arthur (he looks uncannily like Citi Performing Arts Center honcho Joe Spaulding) who ricochets between frenetic showmanship (jigging across tables in the Camelot-as-casino number, “Knights of the Round Table”) and Prozac Nation. Jeff Dumas is still manning the coconut halves as Arthur’s deadpan, underappreciated lackey, Patsy. The pair are joined by full-throated, tress-tossing Ben Davis as Sir “Dennis” Galahad, Patrick Heusinger as “homicidally brave” Sir Lancelot (who turns out to have a little Boy from Oz tucked into his chain mail), and light-with-a-lyric James Beaman as not-so-brave Sir Robin. But the standout, with a role in which to do so, is Esther Stilwell as a hoochy-koochy diva of a Lady of the Lake. Nothing all wet about her.
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