Four years ago, I reviewed “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the Broadway musical spoof written by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame.
In the years between that production and the current revival being presented by Landmark Musicals, I happened to read Thomas Malory’s 1485 classic “Le Morte D’Arthur,” one of the most famous renditions of the King Arthur tale.
I don’t know if the vivid memory of that definitive account of the search for the Holy Grail had anything to do with my impatience at the silliness of the Monty Python comedy this time, but I suspect it did. Malory’s narrative is rife with meaning, while Idle’s pastiche intimates that there is no meaning, only absurdity: “Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it; life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true. You’ll see it’s all a show, keep them laughing as you go. Just remember that the last laugh is on you.” Those lyrics, of course, are from “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from the cult movie classic “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” which is one of many bits Idle appropriates from sources other than the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Of course, no one goes to see “Spamalot” because of any interest in the medieval tale, but to witness that peculiarly irreverent brand of Monty Python humor translated into a Broadway musical. And as far as that goes, director Gary Bearly and his ensemble of comedian singers and dancers succeed well enough.
Less a play than an evening of sketch comedy routines organized around King Arthur’s search for the Grail, Idle has for the most part plundered the Monty Python catalog as well as bits and pieces from famous Broadway musicals or Broadway musical clichés generally. Being designed as a spoof of Broadway, some bits just don’t work here – for instance, the “Very Expensive Forest,” which no doubt was very expensive in the original Broadway production but is here mostly done by video projection.
William Lang gives a solid performance as the redoubtable King Arthur, and I especially enjoyed Mackenzie Donham-Stradling as his put-upon sidekick, Patsy. Courtney Awe plays the Lady of the Lake, the leading female part. Her singing voice is so beautiful she aptly demonstrates how seductive such superficial twaddle like “Find Your Grail” can be. For the Knights of the Round Table, the Grail had objective reality. Now it’s purely subjective and can mean whatever you want it to mean.
The garish design concept is in conformity with the Las Vegas ethos of Idle’s burlesque, and an ever-present video projection shows such iconic images as the Mona Lisa, the grumpy farmer and his sister from Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” and even Lady Liberty, all with a firm grip on the formerly elusive but now easily found Holy Cup.
As I said in my original review of “Spamalot” years ago, it’s a lucrative business translating popular culture from one medium to another. “While it’s hard to live up to the original, fans come out in droves and generally have a very good time.” “Spamalot” is playing through Aug. 4 at the Rodey Theatre at the University of New Mexico. Call 453-8844 or go to landmarkmusicals.org to make a reservation.