With the world as it is, only the most cockeyed optimist could always look on the bright side of life. Still, I think just about anyone can do it for the 2 ½ hours it takes to sit through Josh Rhodes’ completely delightful revival of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” now at the St. James Theatre. I’m not sure how many people were asking for this show’s return after its 16 year-absence from Broadway, but trust me, this cheery concoction has arrived just in the nick of time.
The almost revue-like show is admittedly short on serious plot and characterization, but who cares? It’s chock full of classic bits from the famed British comedy troupe’s television shows and movies (most notably, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) interspersed with a host of homages and a barrage of barbs aimed at everything from Tik Tok to “West Side Story.”
As a result, audience members with an encyclopedic recollection of the Python catalogue or an advanced knowledge of Broadway musicals will probably be laughing the hardest, but no one will be sitting stone-faced for more than a few seconds.
Credit for this merriment goes partly to Rhodes, whose sprightly choreography and rapid-fire direction keep this engine smoothly purring, original Python member Eric Idle (who wrote the show’s supremely silly book and co-wrote the very smart score with John Du Prez), and an expert cast of farceurs and musical theater veterans who prove willing to do anything for a laugh. (Let’s just say that we all know now what Ariana Grande really sees in Ethan Slater, who plays a wide variety of roles.)
Moreover, while the show isn’t overly lavish, Paul Tate dePoo III’s simple set, augmented by background projections, provides more than enough atmosphere and Jen Caprio’s costumes are never less than pleasing.
In case you do care, “Spamalot” does have a smidgen of a plot: King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart, sweetly playing the straight man), his loyal servant Patsy (the ever-adorable Christopher Fitzgerald) and a few newly recruited knights are sent by God (voiced briefly by Steve Martin) to find the holy grail (aka the cup Jesus drank from at the Last Supper). As they travel the kingdom, they encounter the indecipherable Knights from Ni, a haughty Frenchman (who farts in our general direction), a lonely gay prince, and, yes, a killer rabbit. As for the grail, let’s just say it’s right under their noses.
As might be expected, Michael Urie is more than the perfect foil as the cowardly and dimwitted Sir Robin. He also brings down the house with the show-stopping “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” (which, due to its actual subject matter, is admittedly a trickier-than-ever song to perform given our political climate).
Nic Walker, handsome and hunky, seems like he might be better suited to play Lancelot, but he excels as the valiant Sir Galahad. Meanwhile, former “Saturday Night Live” alum Taran Killam is very good – and very game -- as Sir Lancelot. However, it’s the chameleonic gifts he learned on TV that serve him particularly well here! (He will be replaced, however, on January 9 by Alex Brightman, who originated the role at the Kennedy Center, where this production began,)
But the real star of the show is the divine Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as the Lady of the Lake in what deserves to be a Tony Award-winning turn. (I don’t care that it’s only November!) Channeling a bit of Carol Burnett with a soupcon of Celine Dion, she is both consistently hilarious and vocally spectacular, stealing every spotlight that is shone on her!
Indeed, if Broadway could just can this dynamic diva, that would be worth all the Spam in the world.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036