When considering shows to review, I am often drawn to something that intrigues me and that I know little about. That is why I decided to see Monty Python’s Spamalot, currently playing at the Ordway in St. Paul.
I knew this work was a musical adaption of the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail with book and lyrics by Eric Idle, who is one of the original Monty Python troupe. I have never seen any Monty Python work but knew to expect irreverent British slapstick humor. How that connected to Minnesota’s own beloved canned meat, Spam, made no sense to me. Could the search be for a large can of Spam? Who was Monty Python anyway?
Spamalot delivered everything I was anticipating and much more. It is indeed the telling of the tale of King Arthur and his search for the holy chalice. The show opens with King Arthur (Steve McCoy) galloping on stage sans horse with his loyal servant Patsy (Jason Elliott Brown) following closely behind, clapping coconuts to create the required sound effect. This first scene and the interaction between McCoy and Brown literally sets the stage for the rest that is to come. King Arthur is in need of some knights and he is out recruiting. He eventually puts together a motley crew of four loyal followers including Lancelot, Robin, and Galahad with the Lady of the Lake coming in to seal the deal at the critical moment.
There are so many things to like about Spamalot, directed and choreographed by Sam Viverito. The jokes are nonstop, and at times shocking in their bawdiness and willingness to poke fun at anyone and anything. The songs are all catchy and fun and made me want to get the soundtrack to enjoy again; they’re accompanied by well-choreographed dancing. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” has the cast tap-dancing in the rain with yellow umbrellas that brought back memories of Singing in the Rain.
I caught a musical reference to The Wizard of Oz music as King Arthur entered the dark forest. What about that other historical story wrapped in a musical telling with a narrator, clever humorous references, neon costumes at surprising times, and memorable songs? If you are a fan of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat I highly recommend Spamalot.
The one disappointment for me, not only in Spamalot but in many forms of entertainment, is the continued use of female characters as merely decoration with no substance. The one female character with a significant role in this show is the Lady of the Lake (Leslie Jackson), who actually states her dismay at her role in the song “The Diva’s Lament”; it asks the question, “Whatever happened to my part? I’ve been offstage far too long.” It seems that as Idle wrote these lyrics in 2005, he acknowledged an issue that should no longer be considered funny.
To answer my own questions: Monty Python is not a real person. They have an infamous sketch about Spam, which is how the foodstuff’s name became attached to unwanted e-mail. They did not have to search for the Spam, because it already resides in Camelot.
Photo by Scott Suchman, courtesy the Ordway