The stakes are low in Spamalot
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.