…but Andrew liked Spamalot a lot

Sunday 15 October 2006

A spoof Broadway meta-musical that lampoons theatrical Jews and gays along the way. Sound familiar?

Monty Python’s Spamalot
(“a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture”) doesn’t have the grace, wit, or structure – nor the quality of pastiche or song – possessed by Mel Brooks’ The Producers, nor it does not exude a particular love for the genre. But for an enjoyable night out at the theatre in the West End at the moment, it’s pretty hard to beat.

High praise indeed from a West End Whinger, but Andrew does have some empathy with Phil’s lukewarm feelings for Spamalot. For a start: if you’re not a big Monty Python fan, it’s not nearly as funny as half the audience seems to think it is. Indeed, they laugh before the jokes which is most disconcerting.

It’s also true that Tim Curry as King Arthur coasts rather languidly through his role without bringing the energy or dynamism one might have expected. Thankfully the rest of the cast is strong – which it needs to be with each of the principals playing three or four roles. There’s some fine singing too, particularly from Darren Southworth (Historian / Not Dead Fred / French Guard / Minstrel / Prince Herbert) and Hannah Waddingham (The Lady of the Lake) who steals the show.

Waddingham – who has been in two more Ben Elton musicals than any actress should have to endure (Beautiful Game and Tonight’s the Night) – has a fantastic voice and brings the house down several times. Her vocal play is fantastic – The Diva’s Lament, in which she complains that she doesn’t have anything to do in Act II, is excellent. So is her duet with Sir Dennis Galahad (Christopher Sieber) – The Song That Goes Like This – an amusing (if not terribly original) musical theatre parody.

The songs (by Eric Idle and John Due Prez) don’t really stick in the memory but they’ve wisely imported some ready-made goodwill in the form of “Always look on the Bright Side of Life” fromMonty Pythons’ Life of Brian. Again, the audience is ahead of the show, singing along almost from the opening notes.

Spamalot never bores, although bits of the second act drag somewhat – notably the over-laboured, sub-panto scene in which Prince Herbert’s father instructs his dim-witted guards not to let his son leave the room.

There are also some real problems with the transfer of this to the West End from Broadway. Faced with the task of putting on a West End Show, King Arthur and his knights are faced with the apparently essential corresponding task of therefore having to find Jews to take part on it. This might have worked on Broadway, but in the Palace Theatre the introduction of this theme was understandably met with bemused silence – it’s simply not part of our theatre in-joke culture here. It worked in The Producers because (a) it was set on Broadway (b) Max Bialystock is Jewish and (c) Mel Brooks is Jewish.

For evidence of just how half-arsed this transfer is look no further than the programme where the accompanying song is still called You Won’t Succeed on Broadway, although those certainly weren’t the words being sung on the stage.

But these are minor gripes. Director Mike Nichols (whose films include The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Vifinia Woolf, Postcards from the Edge) puts on a terrifically busy show which, combined with Tim Hatley’s first-rate set and costume designs and the presence of Tim Curry, all helps convince you that you’re seeing your £60 ticket money up there on the stage.

If Andrew were a lazy newspaper critic keen to have his words up outside the theatre he might say that in some ways this is the Holy Grail of musical theatre – enjoyable, funnygreat singing, lots to look at and a star. Who would have thought that there would come a time in musical theatre when such a combination would be rare enough to be worthy of comment?

2 Responses to “…but Andrew liked Spamalot a lot”

  1. Kieron Says:

    you know im really not sure
    should i go and see wicked or spamamlot??
    what do the whingers think!!!!!!!!


  2. Hmmm, that’s a tough one Kieron. Oh, hang on, no it isn’t.


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