The summer of 2008 is turning out to be the season of silliness for Vancouver theatre-goers. First, we had Mel Brook’s The Producers at the Stanley Theatre and now we have Spamalot at The Centre for the Performing Arts.
Loosely based on, or ‘lovingly ripped off’ as the advertising declares, from the motion picture “Monty Pyth0n and The Holy Grail”, this musical treat from the people that gave you the Ministry of Silly Walks and helped make Spam a household word around the world, is sure to tickle the funny bone of both Pyth0nites and non-Pyth0nites alike.
Like the movie, Spamalot tells the story of King Arthur and his Knight’s quest for the Holy Grail (for those non-religious types the Holy Grail is the cup supposedly used by Jesus and his disciples at the last supper). In true Pyth0n style though, the Holy Grail quest is side-tracked when the Knights of the Round Table find out they must put on a musical to find the Grail and the search for the Grail is interrupted by a search for Jews because everyone knows that Broadway cannot exist without them. In addition Sir Lancelot comes out of the closet and King Arthur and his Knights remind us that what “happens in Camelot stays in Camelot” complete with the multi-coloured turrets stolen directly from the Excalibur hotel in Las Vegas.
Along the way we are treated to some familiar fare, at least for those that are Pyth0n fans, with taunting French knights, flying cows, a black knight that never gives up and of course, those pesky killer rabbits. Interestingly, and a tad disappointing, is the very brief appearance of Spam itself and sadly we do not even get to hear the Spam song made so famous by the Flying Circus (okay, I admit the lyrics to the Spam song are pretty lame and unimaginative but this was a great opportunity to either expand on them or at the very least serve it up as a tasty memory).
But in addition to the familiar stuff plucked directly from the movie, writer Eric Idle has injected a great deal of additional silliness taking direct aim at Broadway and musicals in general. Case-in-point is one of the more memorable additions where the Lady of the Lake (Esther Stilwell) and Sir Galahad (Ben Davis) perform “The Song That Goes Like This” complete with fog effects, gondola and, of course, a faulty chandelier. And if you can’t figure out which Andrew Lloyd Webber musical this satirizes one has to wonder what just how long you’ve been hiding inside your Trojan rabbit.
Interestingly, the only really memorable song during the entire two hour show is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and that comes from another Pyth0n movie, “The Life of Brian”. And while it is nice to have something to sing-along with (indeed as the audience is encouraged to do at the curtain call) the original movie version is definitely funnier as it is sung, in part, by criminals being crucified on crosses.
So often with touring shows the sets and lighting are some of the first casualties of trying to mount a production that must be easily transportable. Fortunately though Spamalot’s sets and lighting are top-notch and the clever use of the signature Monty Pyth0n animation is a real treat as is the appearance of God (voiced by John Cleese).
While Spamalot is a definite must-see for any Monty Pyth0n fan it will not be lost on non-Pythonites.