If you, like me, grew up as a huge Monty Python fan, you won't be disappointed by the big, boisterous, and appropriately puerile musical Spamalot at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Killer rabbits, tap dancing knights, taunting Frenchmen—to steal a line from the movie from which much of Spamalot was stolen, it is a silly place. And lovingly so.
And if you're not a Monty Python fan, what the fuck is wrong with you?
You know the plot, borrowed heavily from the timelessly funny 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur and his knights set out on their quest, only to be sidetracked by a number of comedic bits. I was 12 years old when the film and the television series hit American shores, transforming our comedy landscape forever. They were like the Beatles of comedy, paving the way for an invasion of absurdist humor from the likes of Andy Kaufman and Steve Martin. So it was at times a little uncanny-valleyish watching non-Python actors perform dialogue so integral to my adolescence, kind of like watching that weird kid in school who would memorize and repeat entire scenes down to the tiniest cadence. (Okay, that kid was me.) Waves of laughter would sometimes sweep through the theater just prior to the punch line from an audience primed by cultish devotion to the material.
But Python alum Eric Idle (book and lyrics) mixes it up enough to create an entirely new experience. Writing in the immediate afterglow of The Producers' extraordinary success, Idle breaks from the original material to adroitly lampoon the Broadway musical genre, skewering Andrew Lloyd Webber's pop ballads in the hilariously generic "The Song That Goes Like This" or self-consciously ripping off the Mel Brooks idiom with the crowd-pleasing "You Won't Succeed on Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews)." The result is a perfect mix of nostalgia, song and dance, and joyful silliness.
Aided by a first-rate local cast (chock-full of Broadway veterans), combined with Tim Hatley's original Broadway sets and costumes, director Josh Rhodes has assembled a production that rivals the best Broadway touring companies. Joshua Carter, Greg McCormick Allen, Matt Owen, Dane Stokinger, Louis Hobson, and Richard Gray all stand out in multiple roles, while Allen Fitzpatrick gives a strong if not-quite-Graham-Chapman-or-Tim-Curry performance as King Arthur (I would've loved to have seen Tim Curry in the role he created).
But if there's a scene-stealer, it is the Broadway-belting Laura Griffith as the alluring Lady of the Lake. Composers Idle and John Du Prez fill her songs with musical gags—for example, the impossibly ridiculous big vocal finish to "Diva's Lament"—that just wouldn't work without Griffith's powerful Broadway pipes. Why Griffith has moved to Seattle, I don't know, but audiences here will surely benefit from her decision.
For the moment, enjoy her in Spamalot. The show is at times stupid and derivative and entirely predictable even when not repeating well-worn lines. But it is always entertaining, and that is a quest at which theater too often fails.