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Theatre, Music, etc.


November 23, 2007

Spam, the good kind

Hilarious Monty Python musical spares no one

Monty Python’s Spamalot, a 2005 Tony Award winner, is the most fun you’re likely to have at the theater this year. Rib-ticklingly funny with laugh-a-minute humor, this zany retelling of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is outrageous from start to finish.

Now playing in Columbus and coming to Toledo next week, Spamalot is not only a spoof of different cultures (the Brits, the French, the People Who Say “Ni”) and peoples (Jews, gays, royalty), but it is also a brilliant satire on the Broadway musical itself.

First seen by British audiences in 1969, the one-of-a-kind sketch comedy troupe Monty Python has been entertaining audiences and creating legions of fans based on humor that can be both bawdy and erudite all at once--you have to appreciate bathroom humor and know your history to get the joke. The original group of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle included the lone American, Terry Gilliam, who has gone on to directing fame with The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Brazil and The Brothers Grimm, among others.

The musical has a book and lyrics by Idle with music by Idle and John Du Prez.

Spamalot is a reworking of their 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and bits from others like The Life of Brian. Fans of the film will recognize hallmark moments, but newcomers to Python (are there truly any?) will still enjoy the musical because the creators have been careful not to make the whole piece one big in-joke.

Part of the conceit of the show is that not only must Arthur find the Holy Grail, but in order to do so he must end up in a show on Broadway.

From flying cows and killer rabbits to pretend horse-riding and the ever-elusive Jesus cup, this musical finds the sweeter side of humor and humanity no matter where it turns.

The musical, in true Python style, spares no one. A startlingly funny number about the importance of Jews on Broadway takes the stereotype and creates musical hilarity out of it with a tip of the hat to Fiddler on the Roof.

The over-bloated musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber get their theatrical comeuppance in a doozy of a number, The Song That Goes Like This, in which Arthur and the Lady of the Lake recreate the overwrought theatrics of The Phantom of the Opera with floating boat, misty caverns, and falling chandelier intact. The song goes on a bit too long as it tells us why it does that--creating a never-ending number reminiscent of Webber’s scores, which sometimes meander forever and a day.

The Diva’s Lament, sung by Esther Stilwell as the Lady of the Lake, is a wonderful send-up of women’s roles in the theater. Absent for most of the first act, she appears in the second to mourn the fact that the women’s parts have been reduced to nothing, as usual. It’s a funny number, but always aware of its gender politics.

And what is there to say of the outing of Lancelot--with a phallus-evoking, size queen’s fantasy-fulfilling name like that, no other knight could have been gayer! Lancelot falls for a damsel in distress who, when he gets there to rescue the frail, forever singing creature, turns out to be Prince Herbert, an effete, daffy lad who ends up on Golden Pond with his knight in shining armor. And Lancelot’s armor turns out to be shining in the way a circuit party boy’s glitter scatters in heaps everywhere he goes. In a wonderful spoof of all that is gay on Broadway (and very little isn’t) Lancelot, Prince Herbert and the chorus do a number titled His Name is Lancelot that is part Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz and part Barry Manilow Las Vegas spectacle.

Directed by legendary stage and screen director Mike Nichols (Angels in America, Closer, The Birdcage), the musical is brilliantly paced and staged, never once allowing the action to drag nor the antics to sag. Nichols won a Tony for directing Spamalot, adding to his mountain of well-deserved awards.

Tim Hatley’s scenic and costume design are superb. Colorful and cartoonesque, Hatley creates vistas that are as lurid and lascivious as the tales being woven here.

The cast is universally grand with John Cleese providing the voice of God. Michael Siberry’s King Arthur is a bravura performance of false bravado and dim-witted royalty.

Esther Stilwell’s Lady of the Lake is one bawdy, outrageous performance. Stilwell revels in every moment making the satire leap off the stage and right into your funny bone.

Robert Petkoff as Sir Robin, the pant-soiling, forever scared Knight (originated on Broadway by recently-openly gay David Hyde Pierce) is a gas to watch.

Christopher Sutton’s Prince Herbert is a genius study in daffy male effeteness, making Michael Jackson seem positively butch by comparison. Sutton exudes sweetness and silliness in equal heapings, creating a male ingénue who is entirely lovable.

Patrick Heusinger’s Sir Lancelot (created on Broadway by Hank Azaria) is a laugh riot, especially in his coming out number where he channels every pelvis thrusting, booty shaking dancing queen’s fantasies. When he’s butch, he’s so butch, and when he’s gay, he’s simply delirious.

This is one not to miss. Spamalot delivers at every level and as it celebrates and decimates all that is sacred about Broadway all at once, it reminds us about the genius and infectiously lasting nature of Monty Python’s antics.

Spamalot will play in Columbus at the Ohio Theater through November 25 and then move to Toledo at the Stranahan Theater from November 27 through December 2. Tickets to shows in either city can be purchased on


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