Monty Python’s Spamalot , Súgán’s Talking to Terrorists
If only Camelot had been like this, its King Arthur intentionally turgid, its Lancelot “gaily bedight,” its Round Table a whirling casino wheel, its dewiest damsel a prince named Herbert. Granted, the songs of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe are more mellifluous than the winking ditties of Eric Idle and John Du Prez. But ah, Spamalot, if ever I would leave you, it wouldn’t be this spring, when the Scandinavian villagers are schlapping one another with their herrings, the coconuts are clopping, the knights are saying “Ni,” and Broadway is strewn with the banana peel of Arthurian legend. Monty Python’s Spamalot (at the Colonial Theatre through April 15), “the new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” may not be as blithely bloody as the low-budget 1975 film penned by Idle and his fellow Pythons. But it shakes one loopy absurdist shtick at the Middle Ages while beating Broadway-musical tradition over the head with another. And the result is about as inspired as sketch comedy dressed up in choreography, cartoon scenery, and tinsel can be.
Spamalot opened on Broadway a year ago and bagged the Tony for Best Musical despite being bested for Best Book and Best Score. That’s because the show is the more than the sum of its lunatic parts, from the old Python routines (which refer to everything from the Dead Parrot Sketch to The Life of Brian) to the deliberate if glorified cheesiness of the physical production to the added idea of sending up musical-theater behemoths from ThePhantom of the Opera to Fiddler on the Roof. Keeping all the balls careering vivaciously in the air, of course, is director Mike Nichols, no stranger to sketch comedy, who mixes silliness and self-reflexiveness with a canned-hammy soupçon of truth. Nichols helmed the original production, whose cast included Tim Curry (he’s since been replaced by no less than Simon Russell Beale), Hank Azaria, and David Hyde Pierce. I didn’t see the Broadway show, but it’s hard to imagine that its bigger-name-wielding posse of knights were better or more spiritedly organized than the troubadour clowns and one mean scatting diva on view in this first national tour, for which Boston is the initial stop. (Hence the presence in the opening-night audience of Idle and Du Prez, who seemed to have as good a time as the quipster questers of Camelot.)
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