The stakes are low in Spamalot

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Book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Friday, May 16. Continues until June 29

For those who like their inanity served with sexism, homophobia, and a dash of questionable racial politics, Spamalot will make for a lovely evening out.

Revisiting the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which is about King Arthur’s quest, Spamalot offers up classic bits, including the Knights Who Say “Ni!” and “Bring out your dead”, but none of them are as funny as they were the first time around.

Partly, that’s because this production—and the musical, if YouTube evidence is to be believed—creates a lower-stakes world than the movie does. In the film version, Arthur and his men are terrified of the Knights Who Say “Ni!”, who block their passage through a forest. Here, however, everybody just acts silly as they recite old material. The bit feels hollowed-out.

And Monty Python original Eric Idle, who wrote the book and lyrics, follows up the “Bring out your dead” sequence, which features a still-living plague victim, with the song, “I Am Not Dead Yet”. It repeats the joke for no good reason.

Monty Python was always a boys’ club and Idle clearly has no idea what to do with female characters if they’re not men in drag. He responds by making them scantily clad showgirls who are endlessly called upon to strut their stuff. The one exception is the Lady of the Lake: she’s a diva, but at least she has a character.

Like its sexism, the musical’s homophobia makes it feel musty. When Lancelot goes to rescue what he thinks is a damsel who’s being forced to marry against her will, he finds instead an effeminate young man. The sissy joke—Sir Herbert wears pink, has curly locks, and loves his drapes—contains no insight or originality; it’s pure, familiar ridicule. Yes, the musical includes a gay marriage, but for me, that was too little too late.

Then there’s the Jewish thing. As part of his quest, Arthur is required to mount a musical. In song, Sir Robin informs him, “We won’t succeed on Broadway if we don’t have any Jews.” Sir Robin’s number references Fiddler on the Roof, which is kind of fun, but beyond that, it doesn’t have a point; it’s just transgressive—and empty-headed.

Still, director Dean Paul Gibson’s version of Spamalot has its strengths. Jonathan Winsby has a great time with Sir Galahad’s narcissism, and he’s got one of the best voices in the cast. Josh Epstein (Sir Robin, and the French Taunter), Scott Perrie (Herbert and others), and Andrew Cownden (Arthur’s sidekick, Patsy) are all having fun—and, with material this thin, performing it successfully is all about playfulness and style.

Terra C. McLeod oozes both style and talent as the Lady of the Lake. But what is she doing on the same stage as David Marr and his Arthur? Arthur is the centre of the musical, but Marr is disconcertingly uncertain.

Spamalot will pack ’em in. Oh well.

Comments (8) Add New Comment
Ron Y
Spot on, Colin.

Eric Idle is not a writer who completes entire works - he's a gag man and perfect for punching up scripts with asides and ideas. I've yet to find anything that he has written on his own to be satisfying.

However, as Python's de facto archivist, he has to be thanked for keeping their material in circulation. The Python books and their website are largely Eric Idle initiatives. Spamalot is, as you say, recycled material but I think it deserves to be part of the pop culture even forty years after it was done (better) by the original troupe.

Anyway, Spamalot did have a couple of laughs which is one more than in Splitting Heirs, and it brought me back to schooldays of reciting Python to each other in the hallways.
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Rating: +1
What else were you expecting?
You sound like you expected something socially relevant. It's Monty Python for heaven's sake. It wasn't terrific, but delivered exactly what was promised. Monty Python fans will be satisfied.
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Rating: +5
Shawn
Mr. Thomas brings up what he sees as faults with the play, but it won the Tony in 2005 thanks to an outstanding production. What's playing at the Art's Club is a cheap and shoddy mess. Josh Epstein is good, and plays a nice twist on Robyn so different than the roles originator David Hyde Pierce - and also does some of Hank Azaria's character's! But this is the most haggard Lady of the Lake I have ever seen. This past spring Seattle 5th Ave put on a stunning production with the glorious Laura Griffith as the Lady. It was immaculate! Meanwhile the Art's Club serves up shit on shingles.
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Rating: -24
Stan
@"Shawn" I am so unbelievably disappointed to read your comment about the Lady of the Lake being "haggard". That actor absolutely blew the lid off of the Stanley. She nailed every note, every step, and was hilarious to boot! And the best you can do is seemingly criticize her APPEARANCE. Did you just get here from 1892? Grow up, move on, and pipe up when you have something interesting to say about someone's WORK. My dear goodness above. PS.-She was also smoking hot to look a! Not that it bloody matters!!
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Gregg
I'm a big Monty Python fan, and this material was terrible to begin with. Not much Arts Club could do with this crud show - not sure why they selected it.
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Bob
Just saw it today, agree with everything you said.
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Shawn
Here is a youtube video from a 5th Avenue Theater concert of Laura Griffith's singing a number from Spamalot, which will give a taste of what a truly great soprano can do with the role: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKrf4TKvTwE
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Rating: -5
Dave
The classic back-handed compliment; "they're having fun up there".
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