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The Good: Funny, Good music
The Bad: Underwhelming theatrical experience, Mediocre acting
The Basics: Fun, but not exceptional, Monty Python’s Spamalot has some variation on the film upon which it is based, but not enough to make a special trip to see it.
One of the nice things about being a reviewer has to be that it encourages me to do new things all of the time. In addition to trying new things as far as music and foods, I have taken to traveling quite a bit more for enjoyment of late. Previously, I would travel for conventions and as the Star Trek convention market has dried up (the death of competition and the downturn in the economy really killed the Trek market!), I have done more traveling for movie premieres and the joys of sharing travel with my new partner. It was with her that I went to see the stage version of The Phantom Of The Opera (reviewed here!). The truth is, though, that The Phantom Of The Opera was not the first play I ever saw on Broadway. The honor of that goes to Monty Python’s Spamalot," which I saw two years prior.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is a stage adaptation of the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail (reviewed here!) and while it seems like an unlikely choice for a satisfying theater experience, it was. The thing is, despite the hype, Spamalot is enjoyable, but not spectacular theater, at least when we went. Our trip to the City was well after the primary, recognizable names in the cast had departed and the show was surviving more on the writing and humor than on the star power associated with it.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is playing on Broadway at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. The multi-story theater is located at 225 West 44th Street. This is actually just a few blocks over from Times Square, which can make for a delightful few hours of wonderment for anyone visiting the City for the first time. This is very easy to find as it is in Manhattan's theater district.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
New York City is a pain in the butt to get around in, at least in a car. We parked at a little parking garage almost immediately after we got onto the island (I believe it was between 10th and 11th, around the vicinity of 56th). New York City is a good place for people who can and enjoy walking. Getting to places like the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, especially around showtime, is hellish and there are only expensive places to park when parking may even be found. It is much easier to park away and walk in than find a parking space anywhere within ten blocks of the theater district within two hours of showtimes.
We arrived for an afternoon matinee showing of Monty Python’s Spamalot on a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of February (2007). As a result, we were looking at a performance long after any recognizable actors were in the play. Our tickets were purchased ahead of time and we found ourselves on the orchestra level, but at the far left of the stage. As a result of the way the sets were designed, there were portions of the show that we were unable to see. This is a play where being in the center is pretty much essential to getting the full experience as there are set pieces on the extreme left and right of the stage with holes characters pop out of that face into the stage.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is a musical comedy about the search for the Holy Grail conducted by King Arthur. After establishing the time and place - old England - King Arthur is introduced coming out of Mud Castle. There, he is charged by god to find the Holy Grail and he and Patsy (armed with coconuts, but no real horses) set off to find it. King Arthur is given his sword by the Lady Of The Lake, meets Galahad and Bedevere and assembles the Knights of the Round Table. Together, they set out in search of the Hold Grail, only to encounter a French Castle and rude French people there.
The witless search continues with an encounter with the Knights Of Ni in the very expensive forest as Arthur and his knights search separately. Sir Robin runs away, The Black Knight is encountered, and Sir Robin decides that what the musical needs is a Jew to succeed. The Lady Of The Lake pops back up, for no particular reason than to sing, and Lancelot rescues Prince Herbert from Swamp Castle. After an encounter with the killer rabbit, the show ends abruptly.
The performance of Monty Python’s Spamalot we took in starred Jonathan Hadary, Marin Mazzie and Martin Moran, as the King Arthur, The Lady Of The Lake (who has a very significant role in this play) and Sir Robin, respectively. The acting was mediocre and Hadary seemed bored with his own performance throughout. While Hadary and Mazzie did ad libs that were topical at the time (Anna Nicole Smith jokes), neither seemed to have a comic spark that made them feel fresh. In fact, the only moments that the cast seemed to have any chemistry and comic timing was in the highly choreographed musical numbers.
The singing in Spamalot is nothing terribly impressive. Mazzie has a fine voice and Hadary and Moran hit all of the appropriate notes, but the range of the songs in Spamalot is fairly unimpressive. The songs are little more than jingles and most fans of the Monty Python films could sing these songs equally well. On that subject, it is worth noting that while Monty Python And The Holy Grail does have some songs - and themes like "Knights Of The Round Table" and "Brave Sir Robin" are included - Monty Python’s Spamalot" pulls from other Monty Python works to fill out the full musical, most notably "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life," from Life Of Brian. The music is well orchestrated and well-choreographed, but it not terribly complicated, so there is not much for the performers to rise to in terms of presentation challenges.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is a comedy and several of the jokes are intended to poke fun at the low-budget appearance of the play. As a result, things like the "Very Expensive Forest" look like anything but and the jokes work. The primary set pieces in Spamalot are two castle sets which occupy opposite sides of the stage and they are sufficient to create the illusion of castles in a fictional realm. As noted before, some of the action of the play happens out the windows of them and as a result of how they are oriented, being stuck at either extreme side will leave the viewer with a partially obstructed view (which is noted when one purchases tickets).
The costumes in Monty Python’s Spamalot were on par with those of Monty Python And The Holy Grail, where the producers cheated the appearance of armor with metallic-colored wools. The costumes for the Laker Girls are fun and the rest of the ensemble wears faux-armor that looks appropriately cheap.
Musically, Monty Python’s Spamalot is fair and the range of instruments is actually unimpressive for a stage production. The musical numbers are almost all universally upbeat, but they are nothing so extraordinary that those who have the recording Monty Python Sings (reviewed here!) will feel a pressing need to journey to Broadway.
There is a cart in the lobby of the Sam S. Shubert Theatre filled with various swag for Monty Python’s Spamalot. These include the collector's program, the original Broadway recording of the play on compact disc and the DVD sets of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Everything is appropriately priced for milking tourists and many of the same items are available elsewhere for less money.
I do not recall any concessions when we visited the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. The only free souvenir from this play is the usual Playbill.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is fun, but it is not the best play of all time and while my partner at the time thought it had a great amount of repeatability, fans of Monty Python might want to see it once, but they will hardly need to see it more than once. As a proud geek, who knows many people who can quote the film this play is based upon, I can say that this is more enjoyable for the novelty than the execution of the idea. If you're in New York City and want to laugh, this is a great way to go, but it is not worth journeying out of one's way to catch.
For other places in New York City to visit, please check out my reviews of:
American Museum Of Natural History
For other reviews of places and unique events or attractions, please be sure to visit my Travel Review Index Page by clicking here!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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