Adapted for the stage from the 1975 British hit film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a zany satire on the medieval legend of King Arthur, Spamalot, with book, lyrics, and music by Eric Idle (an original member of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe) and music by John Du Prez, is back on Broadway for the first time since its Tony-winning debut in 2005, playing an open-ended engagement at the St. James Theatre, following a sold-out run in May at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes (who also helmed the DC production), the campy time-bending meta-theatrical musical comedy features a star-studded cast, an eye-popping design, and all the hilarious songs and non-stop laughs that are sure to make you “look on the bright side of life” (an import from Monty Python’s 1979 comedy film Life of Brian) long after you’ve left the theater, where the Knights, King, Guards, Ladies, and even the corpses (who aren’t dead yet) are funnier than any Court Jester could have ever hoped to be.
It’s 932 AD in Britain (not Finland), long before the time of political correctness. Consequently, the irreverent show laughingly skewers everything and everyone (the scene of an array of French stereotypes from all different eras, including can-can girls, a French poodle, and a mime, is especially sidesplitting), with no-holds-barred humor, word play, and sight gags, taking aim at iconic religious traditions, socio-political paradigms, sexual identity, accents and speech patterns, and Broadway (referencing specific shows, songs, and dance moves, noting the key elements required for success, spoofing diva-like behavior, and naming names – big ones), centuries before Broadway ever existed.
The madcap narrative takes uproarious liberties with the legendary story of Camelot, King Arthur, the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, the Knights of the Round Table, and, at the behest of God (seen in a video projection, with a voiceover by Steve Martin), the quest for the Holy Grail – the vessel (not a ship, a drinking vessel) used by Christ at the Last Supper – and the obstacles they encounter along the way to finding it. Among them are the plague, distracted British sentries, a taunting French adversary, a cow dropped on them from above, a killer Bunny, the Black Knight, a conflicted Prince and his father, and the babbling Knights of Ni, who first demand shrubbery to let the King pass by, and then the creation of a Broadway musical. Luckily for them, and for us, Arthur and his company, with the assistance of his loyal servant Patsy, deliver a comedic blockbuster (which, as it turns out, they’ve been in all along, as is evident in the recurrent chorus lines, jazz hands, insider comments, and a host of other wacky anachronisms).
A master cast of triple threats, under Rhodes’ boisterous direction, nails the parodic characterizations, over-the-top jokes, and hysterical song-and-dance numbers with a devil-may-care PC-be-damned attitude and unremitting relish (they’re clearly having as much fun as the audience, and, in my case, that’s a lot). James Monroe Iglehart stars as an eloquent and formidable Arthur, leading the quest with mimed trotting, galloping, and jumping on his (non-existent) horse, accompanied by the perfectly timed clacking of coconuts to replicate the sounds of its hooves by the devoted Patsy (the terrific Christopher Fitzgerald), who joins him in “King Arthur’s Song” and is always there for him, yet goes largely unappreciated by the monarch, as expressed in the clueless lyrics of “I’m All Alone” (no, an insulted Patsy chimes in, you’re not).
They are supported in the quest by Nik Walker as Sir Galahad, a tall and handsome radical peasant who cleans up nicely and improves his diction after being knighted by Arthur; Taran Killam as Sir Lancelot (filling in for Alex Brightman, who reunites with the DC cast in January, following his Broadway run in The Shark Is Broken), cavalierly prone to killing people; and the always fabulous Michael Urie as the faint-hearted and weak-minded Sir Robin, stricken with incontinence when frightened (which is much of the time), prefers singing to fighting, and warns the Christian King and Knights that “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” without any Jews.
Rounding out the Round Table as Sir Bedevere is Jimmy Smagula, who appears in multiple minor roles, along with most of the versatile featured cast, in portrayals that are skillfully distinguished with different demeanors and accents (dialect coaching by Kate Wilson) and render the all-in actors unrecognizable as they shift from one outlandish character to the next. That includes the chameleonic Ethan Slater, appearing as the Historian – a direct-address framing device that introduces the medieval era to the present-day audience – and seven other offbeat figures that offer laugh-out-loud surprises in Idle’s kooky narrative.
And no one embraces the preposterous antics and vocal acrobatics (in “The Song that Goes Like This” and “Find Your Grail”) like Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, a total laugh riot as both The Lady of the Lake and the petulant scenery-chewing actress who portrays her (that would be Kritzer), with meta-theatrical breaks through the fourth wall and complaints about her lack of stage time (“The Diva’s Lament”), to the point of calling out Urie by name for having so much more than she does. Her powerhouse delivery kept the house screaming on the date I attended (and presumably at all performances) and should garner multiple nominations come awards season.
There are also segments of audience participation and a post-curtain-call singalong to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which add even more merriment to the show, as does the excellent ensemble (Daniel Beeman, Maria Briggs, Gabriella Enriquez, Michael Fatica, Denis Lambert, Shina Ann Morris, Kaylee Olson, Kristin Piro, Drew Redington, and Tyler Roberts), backed by a vibrant seventeen-piece orchestra (fifteen of which are the subject of a bawdy comment by Kritzer), conducted by Music Director by John Bell.
The scenic and projection design by Paul Tate dePoo III, accentuated with spot-on lighting by Cory Pattak and sound by Kai Harada and Haley Parcher, presents a mash-up of the centuries, with medieval castles, the lake, and a dense foggy forest that contrast with the glitzy post-modern stages of the production numbers, as do Jen Caprio’s costumes and hair and wigs by Tom Watson that define the peasants, the King and Knights, the magical Lady, the French nationals, and the current show-biz ensemble of singers and dancers, with skimpy costumes for the women, while the men (except for one) are fully clothed (which seems sexist and dated but accurately lampoons the tone and stylings of a certain jukebox musical that’s still playing on W. 45th Street and is not intended to be facetious).
If you aren’t easily offended by Monty Python’s edgy brand of in-your-face humor, and you’re looking for two-and-a-half hours of escapist fun filled with absurdly entertaining performances, be sure not to miss this sensational Broadway-centric revival of Spamalot.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.