The Broadway Theatre Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot
“He’s not dead yet,” they sing, and (obviously) dance, naturally, about a plague that is rampaging across the country. One can’t help but wonder if they might also be singing about this musical from 2005 that received 14 Tony Award nominations, winning in three categories, including Best Musical. If that is the case, they most certainly would be right about that, because, as I sit and watch the whole crowd start automatically head-bob from one joyous side to another in happy unison when Patsy (Christopher Fitgerald) starts singing “Always look on the bright side of life“, there really is no other way to look at the whole wonderful thing.
Somewhere, deep inside Broadway‘s ridiculously riotous revival of Monty Python’s Spamalot, that’s the keeper-line of the evening and what they sing so enthusiastically about to and for all of us. The revival is still, absolutely and most hilariously, deliciously good fun, while also being gloriously scandalous, as any Monty Python engagement should ultimately be. Filled with stellar comedic performances riding in most delightfully to the sound of coconut shells banging together with determination by those that follow, the musical never fails to plant the biggest of smiles on all our face from beginning to end.
Purposefully directed and choreographed with a sharp clever focus by Josh Rhodes (NYCC Encores’ Mack & Mabel), the quest for extreme merriment is “steady and over we go” in abundance inside the St. James Theatre, Broadway, as it is achieved wholeheartedly at every turn of phrase. And that is something no “doubting Dennis” can or will argue about. And within minutes, after our surprisingly silly side trip to Finland, if you had any hesitations that this revival wasn’t needed or might not be as funny this time around, well, those ideas are simply and entirely washed away by the utter skillful hilarity of all involved.
Now that we find ourselves (correctly) in dreary dark England, with penitent monks bashing themselves on the head to the beat of some drum, King Arthur hooves his way before us with his trusted sound man behind him, mimicking him to perfection. How do we know he’s the King? Well, “he hasn’t got shit all over him” is about the best response one could have. Ripped expertly off from the motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail“, this stunningly funny revival of the Broadway musical, finds its grail time and time again, delivering forth joke after silly joke with an expertise that is golden and holy. With a score by John Du Prez (“A Fish Called Wanda“) and Eric Idle (“Monty Python’s Life of Brian“), and lyrics and book by Idle, this superb parody of epic proportions is completely entertaining and non-stop irreverent, in the best of all possible ways.
Playing parody with Arthurian legend, Spamalot saunters itself in at the instruction of the bespeckled Historian, played to perfection by the always fantastic Ethan Slater (Broadway’s SpongeBob..) who outdoes himself time and time again playing a plethora of parts, all excellently. The musical is all about the tale of King Arthur, hilariously well portrayed by James Monroe Iglehart (Broadway’s Genie in Disney’s Aladdin), all alone with his trusting right-hand coconut-wielding sound man, Patsy, awesomely embodied by Christopher Fitzgerald (Broadway’s Company), by his side. “I’m All Alone“, he sings, with Patsy and the cast of Spamalot standing ridiculously close by, on an expedition, searching for and trying to recruit a knightly army of men to serve and follow him. That is once we get our location settings all in order.
Slowly but surely, they gather together this band of merry ridiculous men; Sir Robin, portrayed with song and dance in his heart by the impeccably funny Michael Urie (2ST/Broadway’s Torch Song); Sir Lancelot, played tremendously well by Taran Killam (NYCC Encores’ Little Shop of Horrors); Sir Bedevere, cagedly portrayed with glee by Jimmy Smagula (Broadway’s Billy Elliot); and Sir Dennis Galahad, beautifully embodied by the very funny Nik Walker (Broadway’s Ain’t Too Proud…) striking gallant poses every chance they get. Even if Dennis’s politically radical mother, Mrs. Galahad (Smagula) is against it all from the get-go. She states, most wisely, that they all must deny any king who has not been elected by the people, and therefore, Arthur has no legitimate right to rule over them. Well said. But it doesn’t really matter in the end. Just ask that fabulous ‘Lady of the Lake‘, played magnificently by the oh-so-talented musical goddess Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer (Broadway’s Something Rotten!; Off-Broadway’s Robber Bridegroom), who I can’t stop myself from listening to over and over again in the cast recording of Broadway’s Beetlejuice. She is the ultimate performer, for this and pretty much any part that requires amazing comic timing, acting chops, and a killer voice. She brings to mind a powerhouse Carol Burnett with killer vocals, and she looks pretty gosh darn good bringing the house down in a Cher-esque sequin pantsuit.
But first, Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot need to navigate past the “Not Dead Fred” (yet again played magnificently by Ethan Slater – the male version of Kritzer in this show, looking pretty gosh darn good in a pair of tighty whities holding a puppet in his right hand) and his lively riotous number, “I Am Not Dead Yet.” Gloriously grand; stunning like a shovel to the head. But it’s Sir Galahad (and his mother) who needs to be convinced by the mighty charms and voice of the ‘Lady of the Lake‘ who has to prove to them that the story of Excalibur is real and true. Pom-pommed on by the “Laker Girls Cheer“, she turns Dennis into the dashingly handsome Sir Galahad and together, they sing the most spectacularly generic (and wonderfully long) Broadway love song, “The Song That Goes Like This“, complete with a dramatic key change and a boat ride in order to win out the day. With a grand fling of his long dreadlocks, he happily joins Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot, and together with cagey Sir Bedevere and the “aptly named” Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Show (Daniel Beeman), they all set off for Camelot and the adventurous quest that leads them through this ridiculously funny, skit-filled show.
If it isn’t some sentries debating whether or not one or two swallows are needed to successfully carry a coconut to this non-tropical land, or being taunted by a few lewd French soldiers high up on a wall that even an empty wooden rabbit won’t remedy, It’s the singing and dancing that keeps bouncing ball delivering the laughs time and time again. Along with the Knights (that say) Ni (Killam and others), the show barely gives us a chance to relax our laughing muscles. It’s brilliantly funny, and the superbly choreographed (Rhodes) talented ensemble never let up. It gives and it gives in abundance, just like Slater (CSC’s Assassins) who keeps reappearing, and Kritzer (PMP’s The Honeymooners) who doesn’t appear enough, if you ask me (or her) to remind us all of their glory. “Whatever Happened to My Part?” is her question of the night, and I couldn’t agree more because every time she steps on that stage, she enlivens the moment with her wit, voice, and comedic timing. (Sweet aside, I was lucky enough to be in the Broadway audience for the first show after the 2005 Tony Awards and joined in with the standing ovation for Sara Ramirez, who just two nights prior had won the Tony Award for her portrayal of the ‘Lady of the Lake‘. It was a glorious moment, one that I won’t forget. And one I think Kritzer might also reprise.)
This “All for One” mentality wins big on a stage perfectly constructed by designer Paul Tate Depoo III (Broadway’s The Cottage) who also is credited with the spot-on, absolutely perfect projections, with solid lighting by Cory Pattak (PMP’s The Great Gatsby), dynamic and glittery costuming by Jen Caprio (Broadway’s Falsettos), and exacting sound by Kai Harada (Broadway’s Kimberly Akimbo). It shifts, shuffles, and presents found shrubbery with pizzazz, presenting some pretty magnificently funny and entertaining numbers, courtesy of music director/supervisor John Bell (Broadway’s Into the Woods), that zing and sing with exacting precision. There are some truly fantastic Broadway moments, but one of the funniest bits revolves around Sir Lancelot who receives a stabbing letter from what he assumes to be a young damsel in distress. But it turns out, luckily, that the damsel is actually an effeminate young man by the name of Prince Herbert, wonderfully portrayed, again by the impossibly good Ethan Slater (“Fosse/Verdon“) whose brutish father, the King of Swamp Castle (Walker), is forcing him into an arranged marriage that he (obviously) doesn’t want. Yet, even more horribly, his father refuses to let the boy sing and dance to his heart’s content.
As any great knight would do, Lancelot rescues the young man, and then delivers a heartfelt speech about honoring his son’s gentle sensitivity. In return, Lancelot is outed as a homosexual knight, and in joyous adoration, the cast gyrates forward with a big wild disco dance number in celebration and acceptance of it all, and the fun we all are having. “His Name Is Lancelot” is the Pride Month anthem of the show, and setting the killer rabbit aside, this number, and Monty Python’s Spamalot as a whole, plays proud and hilarious from beginning to end, thanks to its ridiculous roots, spectacular cast, and its perfect placement.
After pondering the final stoney clue, with Arthur admitting that they’re all “a bit stumped“, God (voiced by Steve Martin) points it all out, rewarding the holder with a small trophy and a Polaroid photo. The grail has been found, finally, and the marriage party can begin. We all rise in celebration, and join in with the welcomed repeat of the gloriously great “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” feeling completely and most wonderfully entertained, overjoyed, and emptied of every laugh one could possibly have had inside their happy head.