By: Paulanne Simmons
November 19, 2023: Spamalot is back in all its over-the-top glory. Based on the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2006, featured a score by John Du Prez and Eric Idle, who also wrote the book. The production was directed by Mike Nichols, received fourteen Tony nominations and won three awards, including Best Musical.
That record is hard to match, and there will doubtless be people who will find this revival lacking. Just as there are still people alive who claim there’s never been a Gypsy like Ethel Merman. But this revival, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, captures all the exuberance and irreverence inherent in the zany work.
Ethan Slater is the historian who introduces us to the very British Camelot, where King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart) is wandering with his servant, Patsy (Christopher Fitzgerald), trying to recruit knights for his round table. But the musical number, “The Schlapping Song,” turns out to be about Finland, the first of the many mistakes that makes the show so outlandishly ridiculous.
Lancelot (Taran Killam) insists on piling the sickly Fred (Slater) on top of a pile of corpses, despite his feeble protests (“I Am Not Dead Yet”). When the Knights send a large wooden rabbit to a French castle, they forget to hide inside the rabbit. Sir Lancelot assumes he has received a letter from a damsel in distress, when it has actually been sent by Prince Herbert (Slater), the effeminate son of the bullying King of Swamp Castle (Nik Walker).
But the farcical plot pokes fun at a lot more than the Arthurian legend. Dennis Galahad (Walker) and his mother (Jimmy Smagula) are political radicals, who spout slogans that are as inappropriate as they are familiar. Camelot resembles Las Vegas far more than a legendary court. And most of all, Monty Python’s Spamalot consistently makes fun of the musical itself.
“The Song that Goes Like This” is a spoof on power ballads. “Diva’s Lament” bemoans the fate of an actress whose part turns out to be not as big as she had anticipated. And the show has a lot of fun with the enormous role Jews have played in musical theater. After the Black Knight’s men demand King Arthur put on a musical, Sir Robin (Michael Urie) says that will be impossible unless they can find some Jews. This leads to “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” complete with an extraordinary imitation of The Bottle Dance in Fiddler on the Roof.
Spamalot has many wonderful performances, which is especially notable considering how many actors play multiple parts. Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, who plays The Lady of the Lake, brings down the house when she belts “Diva’s Lament.” But as Spamalot is brimming with production numbers, it is really the principals performing alongside the ensemble that contribute most to the brilliance of the show.
There’s lots of glitz in this production, mainly thanks to the colorful costumes. The set is mostly achieved through projections. Although some might find this cheap, it does help to maintain the rough and ready nature of the show.
The only problem with Spamalot is that it has to end.
Monty Python’s Spamalot *****
St. James Theatre
246 West 44 Street.
Photos: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman