THEATER REVIEW A Crazy Combo
Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ Is Unlikely Combination of Musical and Movie
Boston Opera House
Jan. 15–27, 2008
The musical “Spamalot,” just like its title, is simply ridiculous. But in a good way. The show tries to smash together the unlikely combination of Broadway Musical and of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (which it “lovingly ripped off”). This attempt is successful for the most part; the musical is wacky and good-natured and you can’t help but be amused.
Naturally, one of the things you’re going to get with a Monty Python musical is a good deal of randomness. The general arc of the story is about King Arthur and his knights and their search for the Holy Grail, but don’t expect anything like the original legend. Like its source material, “Spamalot” takes liberal and laughable liberties with the tale of King Arthur. (I don’t think Malory ever referred to the Lady of the Lake as a “soggy old blonde with her backside in a pond.”) Fans of the movie rest assured: many of the best gags and, more importantly, the spirit of the humor survive intact — from the sound of clopping coconuts to the Knights who say “Ni!” to the killer rabbit.
It isn’t necessary to have seen the movie to enjoy the show, however, as long as you don’t mind the offbeat, somewhat raunchy type of humor. With all the sexual innuendos, flying limbs, and (surprisingly gruesome) fake spurting blood, this is not a show for kids.
The show definitely emphasizes the laughs over the music. Song lyrics are usually far more interesting than the generic melodies that accompany them, but at least the melodies are all sung well. King Arthur was excellent with a deep voice that managed to sound amusingly petulant for much of the play without crossing over into annoyingly whiny. The Lady of the Lake had a powerful and versatile voice, as her songs ranged from straight-Broadway numbers to showgirl jazz to American Idol-esque pop. Her large role is one of the many additions that the musical adds to the movie bits, along with various current references to American pop culture (Michael Moore, Britney Spears, even Tom Brady).
Sometimes, there does seem to be a different feel to the purely “Broadway musical” elements of the show and those that are lifted straight from the movie. Attempts to combine the two are transparent and often clumsy. One example is when the Knights of Ni tasked King Arthur with creating a Broadway musical; it was strange to see the knight launch into a rendition of “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” (without a Jewish person in your project) in the middle of the search for the Grail. “Spamalot” tries to bring together two rather disparate genres, and those who love musical theater (and would get the Jewish joke) and those who watch Monty Python might not necessarily be the same crowd. While I loved watching the monks hitting themselves with wooden boards in one scene and the Lady of the Lake poking fun at selfish Broadway stars in “The Diva’s Lament” in another, I’m not sure these different elements coalesced into any sort of cohesive whole.
That said, it’s Monty Python, so cohesiveness is not perhaps strictly necessary. Also, nothing could take away from the hilarity of the crazy sets and props. I mean, in what other show could you see the massive feet of God, spanning the width of the stage, blast off on jet propellers? Or how about a life-sized cow getting tossed over a castle wall? Or a colorful Camelot castle that looks like a cross between the Magic Kingdom at Disney World and the latest Vegas casino? I was amazed at the elaborateness and creativity of everything. Whether the humor of “Spamalot” appeals to you or not, the show is sure to be a unique and unforgettable experience.