Review: Spamalot

This is a hard review to write for a Monty Python fan. We saw here in Las Vegas Sunday night Spamalot, the musical sort of wrapped around Monty Python’s phenomenally successful 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yet I was underwhelmed.

Here is the problem with Spamalot: you have seen most of it before. Moreover, what you have not seen is not always that humorous. Rather than feel like a Monty Python production, it feels like an Eric Idle production, which it is. Now there is nothing wrong with Eric Idle’s sense of humor, it is just that his humor is just one of the spectrums that made the Monty Python shows and movies funny. Lacking the other creative voices, Spamalot feels very strained.

If you enjoyed the movie, and who among us has not, you will probably enjoy the reenactments of many of the classic scenes from the movie. On the other hand, if you have seen the movie repeatedly, and can recite every line in the Knights Who Say Ne sketch by heart then seeing it on stage feels very anticlimactic. Except for the voice of God played by John Cleese, there is not a single member of Monty Python in the entire production. So what you get are comedic actors trying to act like the comedy troupe. They often come close. But just as Californian sparkling wine is not quite French champagne, while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it is still imitation, and it tends to fall somewhat flat.

In some ways, what is new in the show is faithful to Monty Python. The plot is pretty incoherent and rambling. Some of the new songs are cute including “The Song That Goes Like This” and “The Diva’s Lament”. There are a few surprises that should not be, including Sir Lancelot who is exposed as a gay queen. There are a few modest improvements. “He’s Not Dead Yet” number adds new life and humor to the bring out your dead scene.

Still, something about this experience felt fundamentally false. It was close imitation Monty Python, but not Monty Python itself. It just made me wistful for the real thing. Its short running length (just over ninety minutes, with no intermission) made it feel needlessly hurried.

Mel Brooks took his 1968 movie The Producers and turned it into a phenomenally successful musical that just recently closed on Broadway. Ironically, the musical of The Producers is also playing in Las Vegas. Having seen the musical version of The Producers, both on stage and the subsequent movie, I can say that Mel made an even better product than the original source material. That is not the case here. This production does not come even close to being as funny or inventive as its source material. Rather than adding value to the original package, it unfortunately subtracts value.

My assessment is that unless you are only a part time Monty Python fan or want to see famous scenes from the movie reenacted, just stay away. This musical will doubtless keep the remaining members of the Monty Python troupe from spending their last days impoverished. If you are feeling nostalgic, it might leave you with a pleasant buzz. I suspect it will leave you feeling more let down than entertained.

The comic energy that was Monty Python has long gone. It is best to accept it and move on. Enjoy the movies and classic shows on DVD. They were authentic. Spamalot feels like a dressed up imitation of the real thing. If in Vegas and you have a choice between Spamalot and The Producers, see The Producers instead. Even if it is only 70% as good as it was on Broadway, it would still be far fresher and more entertaining than Spamalot.

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