Python enthusiasts – many of whom are running to the St. James these days – need no further instruction on the pedigree of this famous broadside. To everyone else unschooled in the history of Python’s arrogant insult humor, I say, with mild disdain: Google it. (He being the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”)
This new “Spamalot” arrives, beefed up, embellished and yes, even funnier than its birthing engagement earlier this year at the Kennedy Center as part of its Broadway Center Stage series. Now that it’s truly on Broadway, center stage, the revival of Python great Eric Idle’s Tony-winning musical, starring John Du Prez, brings joy to a country desperately short of laughter, laughter, snickers and giggles.
You’ll hear them all at the St. James, where director and choreographer Josh Rhodes has assembled a team of comedic actors with the serious mission of provoking maximum laughter. Let me mention the clowns from the sequel to King Arthur, played with marvelous and confusing mastery by James Monroe Iglehart: there’s Michael Urie, as a knight who would rather be at a table at Sardi’s than at the table round; Nik Walker, a Sir Galahad singing the inevitable song in a musical like this; Saucer-eyed Christopher Fitzgerald, playing the poor man, neglected second banana Patsy; Ethan Slater, as among others a peasant who is not yet dead; Jimmy Smagula, whose Sir Bedevere is both stupid and even dumber; and Killam, a Lancelot who finds his true sexual self, halfway through the forest.
Am I leaving anyone out? I don’t think – oh, wait, yes. Playing the Lady of the Lake, an insufferable star in her mind, she is an incandescent Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer. It’s a role that requires both a responsible voice and a carnivorous gift for scenery-chewing. “Spamalot” found the woman for the job in Kritzer, whose rendition of “Diva’s Lament” in Act 2 gives him a sensational opportunity to show off his big Broadway sound and bigger ego of the Lady’s Broadway. Brava diva, brava.
It’s been ages since the 1969 debut of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the invaluable British sketch series starring Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam. And it’s been 18 years, if you can believe it, since the premiere of this musical, based on the Python belief that everything and everyone can be taken down a peg or two. So it may take some already ingrained appreciation for the anarchy of the Pythons to extract all the potential enjoyment from the series. However, you don’t need to have a doctorate in comedy to get up to speed.
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“Spamalot” is driven by a loving disrespect for everything, including the time-honored conventions of the Broadway musical. Several jokes and numbers are taken from other projects, such as “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from the 1979 film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” but the show’s best songs are theatrical parodies inspired. Among them: “The Song That Goes Like This” from Act 1 performed by Kritzer and Walker, and the sublime “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” from Act 2, which highlights the extraordinary comedic talents of Urie, who could perform an entire musical. with his eyes.
Rhodes is the right director for this mission; the jokes crackle and the production numbers sparkle. Everything seems calculated to take you to your happy place. The design elements—Paul Tate dePoo III’s sets and projections, Jen Caprio’s costumes, Cory Pattak’s lighting—are entirely satisfying improvements from their work at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in May. Fitzgerald, Slater and Killam, new to the production, fit in seamlessly. And music director John Bell and a 17-member orchestra, assisted by aural designers Kai Harada and Haley Parcher, make it all sound so good.
I remember the original 2005 production being a dizzying diversion. I laughed at the time. This time I roared. What a gift, in difficult times, to share a tumultuous experience with truly funny people.
Spamalot from Monty Python, book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by Idle and John Du Prez. Directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes. Sets and projections, Paul Tate dePoo III; musical director, John Bell; costumes, Jen Caprio; lighting, Cory Pattak; sound, Kai Harada and Haley Parcher; orchestrations, Larry Hochman. Approximately 2 hours 20 minutes. At the St. James Theater, 246 W. 44th St., New York. spamalottthemusical.com.
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