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Monty Python’s SPAMALOT
Book and Lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez and Eric Idle
CAST
Historian, Not Dead Fred, French Guard, Minstrel, Prince Herbert CHRISTIAN BORLE
Mayor, Patsy, Guard 2 MICHAEL McGRATH
Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, Knight of Ni, Tim the Enchanter HANK AZARIA
Sir Robin, Guard 1, Brother Maynard DAVID HYDE PIERCE
King Arthur TIM CURRY
The Lady of the Lake SARA RAMIREZ
Sir Dennis Galahad, The Black Knight, Prince Herbert’s Father CHRISTOPHER SIEBER
Dennis’ Mother, Sir Bedevere, Concorde STEVE ROSEN
Orchestra conducted by TODD ELLISON
Directed by MIKE NICHOLS
Rec. 7 February 2005, Right Track Recording Studios, NYC.
DECCA BROADWAY 9880253 [52:14]


I was truly honoured when, hardly daring to believe my luck, our founder and chief the great and good Dr. Len Mullenger entrusted me with the job of reviewing this gravestone, sorry, milestone of a disc.

Spamalot is very much Broadway Musical, and very loosely based on ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ ‘Loosely based’ when applied to bowel movements can of course be a Very Good Thing, but when British Humour is transported across the Atlantic Ocean caution is very much advised. Being vegetarian (lapsed) I have no beef with Broadway Musical as such, but my concern is for that vulnerable crowd of pale, undernourished-looking Monty Python fans huddled shivering underneath Eros in Piccadilly Square, London, England. They will see this disc, graced as it is with Terry Gilliam-a-like illustrations, and might easily be fooled into thinking that this is in some way has any resemblance to original genuine Chesham-hallmarked real Monty Python. This is not the case.

There are of course some remnants of the original film, songs like ‘Knights of the Round Table’ and ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (oops, wrong film) which wave somewhat pathetically over a raging battlefield of Broadwayiana like white flags riddled with musket shot. We are also told that Eric Idle has written a number of new songs for this production, but as the track listings are uncredited it is a guessing game as to which these might be. The orchestrations are percussion-heavy and all Broadway – shiny, brash and clean as a new horn.

To quote Greg Proops, ‘so, we’re American – where’s the problem?!’ Monty Python’s Spamalot won three Tony Awards in the categories of Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Sara Ramirez) and Best Direction of a Musical (Mike Nichols). It features a cracking cast, including at least three stars which many will recognise: David Hyde Pierce (Frasier) as Sir Robin, Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) who is excellent as King Arthur, convincingly sounding like Graham Chapman at times, and Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) as Sir Lancelot. Sara Ramirez also deserves a big mention for carrying the typically Monty Python female minority role with smoky romantic schmooze and some amazing parodies and jazz scat singing. True, we miss all of the reportedly ‘hilarious, highly choreographed production numbers’, but if you can get past the ‘in your face’ and manic up-beatness of the whole thing then even I have to admit that there is a great deal of fun to be had here. The whole point is being able to take it at ‘in your face’ value. This kind of issue has most value as a souvenir for those who have seen the show, but as a true studio recording some effort has been taken in making sure that the audio-only version stands alone, with a wealth of sound effects, extra comic commentary and a few admittedly rather lame comedy links. The creators of this production know exactly what will succeed and make a great night out on Broadway, and the audiences apparently loved every minute of it. Composer John Du Prez also has an excellent Python pedigree, having already worked on ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ and ‘Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.’

The dilemma here is a purely British one. Monty Python used to have great fun taking the mickey out of this very kind of production, and so in a strange way seems to have come full circle. Spamalot is a parody of a parody of a parody (possibly unwitting): a hall of wobbly mirrors which takes things like the original disco and show parodies, brings them up to date and places them in a context where they could easily be taken to be intended as deadly serious ‘funny’ entertainment. There are one or two amusing lines here and there, but also a great deal of padding like the Song that Goes Like This and Diva’s Lament (Whatever Happened to my Part?) ideas. Even listening very hard indeed, I found it hard to discern any kind of plot – not that that was the original film’s strongest point, but we all like a good tale. Aside from some Knights here and there and one or two vague references to The Grail, the true story ultimately revolves around the musical itself, and a seemingly unconsummated, or even unexpected relationship between King Arthur and the Lady of the Lake.

If you love high-kicking up-beat Broadway Musical with added humour and some eminently singable tunes then this could be your disc of the year, but I look forward more to a completely new all-British Pythonesque comedy production based on the life of Oscar Wilde: De ProFindus, the Ballad of Ready Meal. If you are a true, pale, under-nourished Monty Python fan huddling under Eros in Piccadilly Circus, then I advise you try before you buy.

Dominy Clements

 



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