Theater review: ‘Spamalot’ returns to Broadway

The bright side of life.
Photo: Matthew Murphy

On a Broadway rife with recycled cinematic IP—flying DeLoreans, questionable cross-dressing adventures, big red windmills, and vindictive shopping sprees—a revival of Eric Idle and John Du Preez’s play. Spamalot It’s a big, fat wrench that blows berries. This is a good thing. when Spamalot (Slogan: “A musical lovingly taken from… Monty Python and the Holy Grail“) She first rode her invisible horse into Times Square in 2005, and the Hollywood-to-Broadway pipeline was already pumping (that same year he gave us Dirty rotten bastards And Violet), but these days, the influx of nostalgia-driven “content” is intense enough to make you feel quite anxious. It’s hard to sit in a theater where people have paid top dollar to hear phrases they remember Christopher Lloyd or Julia Roberts saying, interspersed between mediocre songs. Given that the recitation of parts of Holy Grail It’s practically an NCAA sport, and the theatrical adaptation seems to be heading straight into the danger zone — the place where the play becomes, without putting too fine a point on it, a dead parrot.

But in his best moments, Spamalot He knows his business, and this is show business, my dear. Her smart move was translation the cupCheeky metadata in a new way. The movie knew it was a movie, the musical knew it was a musical, and it goes to the wall to communicate and celebrate that fact. In the Broadway scene of 2023, Spamalot Turns out he’s oddly well-placed to lure people in with the promise of familiarity, then blast them in the face with a confetti cannon full of theater (and literal candy).

Of course, you can also get all the readable parts, but it doesn’t do that well no — and in director and choreographer Josh Rhodes’s brilliant production, the enjoyment of those pieces waxes and wanes. At first, when two marshals showed up to discuss the airspeed in the turrets of the Paul Tate dePoo III set (a Technicolor mix of mostly flat views and hyperactive Terry Gilliam projections that Tate also designed), my heart sank. Only a small amount. Was this going to be rocky horror – The closest thing to Americans Pantomime – Without the crucial joy of being able to scream and throw toasts? But then it started raining kick lines, ostrich feathers, clicks and embellishments, and more references than could shake a severed arm. (Also, people an act Scream and whistle together.) By the time Sir Galahad (a very funny Nick Walker) and the Lady of the Lake (Leslie Rodriguez Kretzer, whose 16-ton voice is made of Silly Putty, massive and infinitely flexible) have set sail together on the gondola – with the image of a massive chandelier descending In the background of projections that always appear – I was on a gondola. I mean, what are you going to do, miss the boat?

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The story, as with Holy GrailWe don’t need much to get started. As a bespectacled historian (Ethan Slater) shows us, it’s Christmas England kind of thing — the plagues, the plagues, the Angles, the Saxons, and so on. Arthur, King of the Britons (James Monroe Iglehart), and his loyal servant, Patsy (Christopher Fitzgerald), scour the land in search of knights for Arthur’s Round Table (a set piece that does not appear in this play). They manage to bring together the chronically cowardly Sir Robin (Michael Urie), the lexically challenged Sir Lancelot (Taran Killam), the dim and puffy Sir Bedivere (Jimmy Smagula), and the hot socialist Sir Galahad. Arthur isn’t picky about who he promotes to his king’s guard, and the play has fun mixing knights with other Python creations: Robin and Lancelot begin with “Bring out thy dead”—screaming corpse-collectors, and Galahad, whose first name was Denis, was a born-and-raised, disfigured anarcho-unionist.

You know the rest – or if you don’t, that’s okay. It involves going to Camelot, searching for the Holy Grail, being taunted by the French, finding bushes, and shooting grenades at killer rabbits. More importantly, it involves a deluge of meta-musical shenanigans that manages to be blatantly obscure without feeling exclusive. Kretzer makes admiring allies in the audience as she belts and sings her way through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s parodies, Dream girls, Celine Dion, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli – even Elphaba’s “Battle Cry.” (“What happened on my end?” she sings in the disaffected second act, “Diva’s Lament,” about forgotten heroines everywhere.) There’s a Vegas glamor, a throw-away flick, and nods to chicago, West Side Story, La Cage aux FoliesAnd a company“And a hundred other people just got the plague,” shouts Slater, here as the sensitive Prince Herbert, who just wants to… siiiiiiiiiing. These are crafted with skill and hospitality: even if you don’t know the exact reference point, you’ll still get the joke.

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Then, most brutal of all, is “It Won’t Work on Broadway.” Ultimately, as well Spamalot The uniqueness of musical theater becomes, as Arthur and his knights (by happy knights who say “Ni!”) are commissioned to stage a Broadway musical. As the song-and-dance-obsessed Sir Robin, Urie takes center stage to explain to Arthur that, tragically, they “won’t make it on Broadway” — because “they don’t have any Jews.” This would probably have been completely disrespectful in 2005, but in the fall of 2023, it will be a real spitting moment. You can feel the common air consumption in the room. I imagine SpamalotThe cast had conversations about the current supply of horrors in the world and made a decision in spirit Mel Brooks and Max Bialystock, to move forward anyway. As Yuri – the super clown with flexible limbs and a sonic sine wave – joins the group to obtain a copy of… Fiddler on the Roof Bottle Dance (with the glasses replaced with bottles, of course), it’s hard to be mad that they did it. It’s exhilarating, it’s outrageous, and, in a strangely rude way, it forces us to reckon with our acutely heightened contemporary responses. There’s a lot of damage in the world, and this is not part of it.

The real secret to SpamalotThe spirit of welcoming and throwing everything at the wall is that the show is what you’d get if you gave a community theater $2 million. Doubling the central cast is a big part of this ethos. Yes, the production has an inexhaustible set (its costume racks must be Jane Caprio’s collection of sequins, feathers, and chainmail a mile long), but there’s a certain moody energy in keeping Slater, Urie, Kellam Walker, and Smagola Whac-A-Mole-ing between parts, and is supposed to leave behind the scenes a series of hats, wigs and doubles. They’re all doing breathless foursome duty, and their exhilaration is palpable – on stage and even in theatre playbill. “Please shout louder for James instead of Nick Walker,” Iglehart’s bio reads. Walker’s bio states, “Archast enemy of James Iglehart. Infinitely cooler than James Iglehart. Protect Nick from James Iglehart.” This is the kind of thing you get on a local production show Junior partner. It’s stupid, it’s real, it’s not embarrassing, it’s not precious, it’s delightfully unprofessional, and so am I here So.

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It is true that there is high quality sugar Spamalot: In the end, your teeth are buzzing from the excessive sparkle and escalation. But there’s also an embrace of the inherent absurdity of its form that feels almost existential, and therefore true of Python. Maybe it’s the sugar talk, but when a pile of plague corpses join Patsy to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (taken from Brian’s life Why not?), the logical conclusion of musical theater seemed clear to me: this is the thing we created, these ultimate absurdity contests, because life is just as absurd but darker and with less dancing — and because, in the words of comedian Dylan Moran, “it should still be As alive as possible until you become so Completely dead“.

Spamalot Located at St James’s Theatre.

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