Those unfamiliar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail will probably be surprised, and a bit appalled, at the taste-challenged exercise in existentialist vaudeville that is Spamalot.
Bu tasteless or not, it's among the best musicals Sixth Street Playhouse has staged. Inspired by the subversive siliness of the 1975 film, Spamalot is a giddy, goofy delight—and it carries a high degree of life-affirming advice.
Well, sort of.
Eric Idle—who co-wrote the film and adapted it to the Broadway stage in 2005, and who appears as God in a clever bit of stage projection—includes many of the most memorable bits from the original film: the head-banging monks, the "Bring out your dead" guy, the obnoxious French taunters, the Trojan rabbit, the Knights Who Say Ni, and even the fluffy bunny with sharp, nasty, pointed teeth.
The show does an exceptionally clever job of encapsulating all of the film's teasingly indelicate mayhem. But it does more than just add a few songs and throw it up onstage. With Spamalot, Idle has taken the opportunity to also spoof the traditions and excesses of Broadway musicals in general.
Beginning with a small misunderstanding which results in a chorus of singers praising the country of Finland instead of England ("The Fisch Schlapping Dance"), the story skips back and forth between Arthur's quest to find the Holy Grail ("Find Your Grail") and his knights' gradual discovery that they are actually characters in a Broadway play ("Twice in Every Show").
Arthur, portrayed with a playful sense of stiff, authoritarian befuddlement by Barry Martin, attempts to keep order with the help of his coconut-clapping servant Patsy (Erick Weiss, a comic delight) and the occasional assistance of the sassy, sexy Lady of the Lake (Taylor Bartolucci, whose strong voice was not served on opening night by some negligent attention to her mic volume).
The knights are a motley crew. There's Sir Lancelot (a hilarious Mark Bradbury, who dons an outrageous French accent when necessary), the preening Sir Galahad (Evan Atwood) and Sir Robin (Trevor Hoffman), who is frightened by everything except a good tune and stops the show with a second-act number titled "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," lamenting the absence of Jewish entertainers in Arthur's merry band of misfits.
Directed with confident, comic grace by Craig Miller, Spamalot is something completely different, as bracing and funny as a hit upside the head with a shovel.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★