The opening night of Monty Python's Spamalot was the most raucous of any show I've yet attended at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The line of Python fans (many in costume) hoping to score rush tickets snaked around the theatre, and the crowd of ticket-holders waiting to enter was nearly impossible to navigate through. Once inside, the din was so loud one could barely hear the pre-show announcement to turn off your cell phones, locate the exits, etc.
As the show's author and co-composer, Eric Idle, informed the audience after the performance, this year marks Monty Python's 40th anniversary. The absurdist British comedy troupe has clearly left an indelible mark on contemporary pop culture, and it looks like their legacy will endure well into the future.
I went into Spamalot with high expectations after waiting to see it for four long years. While it had an exclusive, two-year run in Las Vegas, the show was prohibited from performing in other western states and is only now being performed in California and Arizona. After all, Spamalot won the 2005 Tony for Best Musical along with several other major awards. I've been singing along with the cast recordingbetween then and now. While I wasn't about to dress as a knight, knave or the Lady of the Lake for opening night, I could appreciate the fans' enthusiasm.
The show didn't disappoint me ... too much. A splendid cast headed by actor-game show host John O'Hurley as King Arthur (who wasn't up to full volume opening night) and the score, both tuneful and funny, by Idle and John Du Prez are the primary assets. Unfortunately, the book and direction tend to milk a lot of the jokes for all they're worth — and then some — where subtlety would be better.
Similarly, Merle Dandridge as the Lady of the Lake mugs excessively, especially during her otherwise amusing Act II (or is it Act III?) showstopper "The Diva's Lament." However, James Beaman (as Sir Robin & others), Rick Holmes (as Sir Lancelot & others) and Christopher Sutton (as Not Dead Fred, the effeminate Prince Herbert & others) help compensate with their just-right performances.
After a brisk Act I, the show's second half is overloaded with a few too many encounters with odd characters carried over from the source film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The best are the Knights Who Say "Ni", whose leader updates the contingent's eventual name-change with a hilarious Sarah Palin reference, and that cute-but-vicious rabbit (a great hand puppet) who guards the grail's resting place.
Spamalot, with its predominantly male cast, is likely the gayest musical to hit Broadway since La Cage aux Folles (and no, I haven't forgotten Victor/Victoria). There is an abundance of cross-dressing, male bonding, homosexual innuendo, fey men and bluntly gay characters. Lancelot is outed during a techno-infused production number replete with disco lighting and tutti frutti-attired dancers.
Whether gay, straight or other, there's something in Spamalot (which will play LA through September 6) to please everyone but the most erudite critic.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.