It seems like every musical that hits the Great White
Way these days is a musical update of an older movie. Some of them,
like The Producers and Beauty & the Beast seem like a natural.
Others, like Footloose, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Big are
more of a stretch. However, of all the musicals based on a movie that
have hit the boards, none has had more unlikely source material than
Spamalot, a musical adaptation of the classic 1974 cult comedy Monty
Python & the Holy Grail.
After all, how can you capture the inspired lunacy of
the film on stage; the European (not African) swallows, the rude Frenchmen,
the shrubbery, the Trojan rabbit, the 500 virgins, the Knights that say "Ni,"
the oppressed masses, the people who aren't quite dead yet, not to mention
more than a few pissed off bobbies?
Rocky Horror Picture Show), David
Hyde Pierce (a.k.a. Niles Crane of the long-lived sitcom Frasier) and
Hank Azaria (of The Simpsons).On the plus side, the book and music were written by
former-Python member Eric Idle (the other members did not get involved, but
they did give it their blessing.) I haven't seen the show yet, so I
can't comment on that, but on the evidence of the Original Cast Album, it
looks like the story has been tweaked rather significantly. The
pleasant surprise is that the new songs are even better than the old
standbys imported from the movie. The cast is made up of some old pro
comedians who are also rather good singers, including Tim Curry (who 30
years ago stalked the boards in
The best of those is still the hilarious minstrels
singing "The Ballad of Sir Robin" (though I am a tiny bit disappointed that
the story has apparently been changed so that the even funnier reprise to
the song got cut out.) There is also the well known pre-Riverdance
stomper "Camelot." The musical's title comes from this song, an
awkwardly funny attempt to make a rhyme with the title city.
Strangely, there are also a couple of bouncy sing-alongs of "Always Look On
the Bright Side Of Life." Granted, it is one of the best-known Python
songs ever, but anyone who has even a passing knowledge of Python
knows that the song is not from Holy
Grail, it is from the infamous crucifixation scene in Monty
Python's Life of Brian.
However, like I said earlier, the best moments come in
Idle's new songs. These cover such ground as the gaudy faux-disco of
"His Name Is Lancelot" and the wonderfully funny Andrew Lloyd Webber
send-ups "Diva's Lament (Whatever Happened To My Part?)" and "The Song That
Goes Like This." As you can probably tell by these titles, it sometimes gets to be a bit of a one-joke puzzle-box
premise (lots of songs about what its like to be singing about what they are
singing about.). It's a good joke, though, and also a surprisingly
likable cast album.