Even before we found our seats at the St James Theater, it was easy to gauge the emotions of the audience. Its mood was downright giddy. With so much tension and anger in the world today, everyone needed a good laugh to escape the news of the world. The revival of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” did not disappoint.
As I watched, I waited for the familiar story from previous versions but also to see if the show had been updated. Based on the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the show premiered in 2005 and directed by Mike Nichols, winning the Tony for Best Musical. With references to Disney, George Santos and Britney Spears among others, the revival felt current. But, in reality, why should a show that takes place in the Middle Ages even have to be updated?
All the familiar and beloved material is still intact. Director-choreographer Josh Rhodes uses his exceptionally talented ensemble to mine every bit of humor of the original. The show is an irreverent comedy with clever wordplay and absurd physical humor. (How does one describe using a cow tossed over the ramparts in place of a cannonball?) Nothing is off-limits or sacred in this play-certainly not even the plague or death as in “I’m Not Dead Yet,” Not Dead Fred’s song.
Act I introduces the audience to King Arthur as he travels throughout the kingdom gathering his knights. Once he has assembled this august group instead of going off to right wrongs, they set off to revel in Camelot. (As we learn, What happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot.) This is a chance to introduce the attractive ensemble of singers and dancers. Then God, or at least his enormous face appears, giving the knights a quest, so they set off seeking the Holy Grail. (Paul Tate Depoo III created scenic and projection design.) This plot line provided Eric Idle (book, music and lyrics) even more opportunity for clever wordplay.
James Monroe Iglehart as Arthur is basically a straight man. He is majestic with an imposing presence and booming voice but most of the comedy is left to the others. In fact when he sings “I’m All Alone,” the song is funny only because of his loyal servant Patsy, the always marvelous Christopher Fitzgerald. Even when a Disney joke is on Iglehart, Arthur doesn't get to deliver it.
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as The Lady of the Lake also has one role. Although she’s appeared in several prior Broadway productions, this is one of the most impressive performances she's given. Kritzer can belt a song and stop the show. And she does. Two of her major songs remind the audience that “Spamalot” is, indeed, a Broadway show. (As if we’d forget.) In the Second Act singing “Diva’s Lament,” she addresses the audience, complaining that there’s nothing more left of her part.
By Act II, having been routed by the French, the knights are separated, providing the opportunity for individual characters to get their own spotlight numbers. The cast is extremely talented, humorous and versatile. With the exceptions of King Arthur and The Lady of the Lake, the performers play multiple roles. Rounding out the comic ensemble are Michael Urie, Ethan Slater, Nik Walker, Jimmy Smagula and Taran Killam. Some audience members knew the show so well, they felt the need to help with the dialogue, causing former SNL cast member Killam to react. His quick ad lib (“let me say it!”) probably added one of the biggest laughs to an already hysterical script .
There are several Broadway references in “Spamalot.” You don’t need to ‘get ‘them to enjoy them but if you do, there’s a special feeling of recognition. When the wonderfully gifted Michael Urie as Sir Robin sings “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” in response to the challenge of the knights putting on a show, the lyrics include several popular Jewish Broadway personalities.
The music by Idle and John Du Prez is tuneful and the lyrics clever and catchy. Those unfamiliar with the music will enjoy it and those who already knew it may find the songs stayed for days like earworms.“Spamalot” is downright silly and puerile in some places and uses every opportunity to feature scantily clad gorgeous show girls (Costume design by Jen Caprio) often backing up the Lady of the Lake.
Brilliantly directed by Rhodes, “Spamalot” is diverting and entertaining. The audience was there to have a good time and it did. During these dark days, we need humor and laughter even more today than ever before. Sometimes the audience just wants to smile. The absurdity of two knights jousting and one lopping off the limbs of another who refuses to quit is so dumb that it’s funny. You will enjoy “Spamalot” a lot, but you need to be able to put your intellectual pretensions aside for a while.
St. James Theatre,
246 West 44th St.
New York, NY