2005_05_arts_graildvd.JPGLast weekend Gothamist lucked out once again with tickets, and got to see Spamalot. The show has been relentlessly promoted, and with 14 Tony nominations now they’re especially shameless about it, but fortunately it’s a great production. We hadn’t seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail in some time, so after seeing the musical we decided to rent the DVD and do a little comparison.

Eric Idle, who wrote the book and music for Spamalot, was the only original Python involved in making the musical (except for John Cleese as the voice of God), which would seem to allow a lot of room for straying from the film’s batty genius -- but the rest of the troupe (those still alive, anyway) vetted the script and gave it the thumbs up, so it always had that going for it. The starry cast (including Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, and Tim Curry) was something that had the potential to go either way – ending up as nothing more than celebrity add-ons, or truly enhancing the show – but they, too, come through brilliantly. But the question remains: for those diehard fans of The Holy Grail, is this really a good thing? Does it live up to its predecessor?

2005_05_arts_taunters.JPGThe answer, Gothamist would say, is pretty much yes. After going back to the DVD, we remembered a lot of things that we’d forgotten about The Holy Grail, things that aren’t in Spamalot – mostly the quick flashes of scenes that the Pythons threw in seemingly randomly but that made the whole thing richer and funnier. It would have been impossible to include these in a 2-act musical with an enormous budget that forces it to attempt to look a little more polished and appeal to considerably more people than Python sketches did. Impressively, Idle did include a fake-out in the Playbill like the one in the opening credits of Holy Grail, where the subtitles are all crazy; the abrupt but perfect ending in the movie, however, gives way to something more mainstream audience-friendly here, however. Fortunately, though such silly bits are great in the movie and thoe diehard fans may consider the omission of them heresy, the musical does fine without.

The only two major scenes that Gothamist really missed were the one were Sir Galahad goes into the castle with all the virgins (it’s sort of made up for in Spamalot by an extended scene in Camelot that isn’t in the film, and involves lots of Las Vegas-style glitz and scantily clad women); and, more sadly, the scene with the Bridge of Death (“What is your favorite color?” “Blue!...No, red! Aaaauggh…”). Gothamist wondered whether maybe it was the difficulty of staging that scene that made Idle leave it out; but on the other hand, they do fling cows around, and the Sorcerer Tim (Azaria) flies in on a jet-powered broom. In any event, for us it was really the only thing that Spamalot was missing.

There are also a number of scenes here that The Holy Grail doesn’t have. In particular, Spamalot’s shtick is making fun of Broadway, performing songs like “The Song That Goes Like This” to make fun of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables and other tired old shows. Sara Ramirez, who plays the Lady of the Lake (the “watery tart” who gave the sword Excalibur to Arthur) and has a stunning voice, does a lot of this parodying, as does David Hyde Pierce, who plays Sir Robin (among others), the constantly frightened knight who would really rather put on a musical. There’s also a side plot in which one of the knights is outed, leading to a gay marriage that allows him to remark, “Just think, in a thousand years this will still be controversial.” Otherwise, though, a lot of the musical is taken verbatim from the movie, from the French taunter (Azaria again, in a delightfully over-the-top performance) to the Knights Who Say Ni and the Black Knight (“It’s just a flesh wound! Come back here, I’ll bite your legs off!”). Some of the new versions, in Gothamist’s humble opinion, are better now for being a bit pared down – in the scene with girly Prince Herbert we couldn’t stop laughing, though that might just have been because Christian Borle as Herbert was so hilarious.

2005_05_arts_herbert.JPGYou probably won’t be able to get tickets for awhile unless you have oodles of money or good connections, but it's worth the effort and expenditure. (Actually, if you want to see Hank Azaria in his role, waiting might not be such a bad thing: he's going away to tape Huff this summer, starting at the beginning of June, and then will come back for 6 months starting in November). In any case, whether you’re a Python fan, a Broadway fan, or both, this is the show to see.
Details: Spamalot is at the Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St., Tues. at 7, Wed.-Sat. 8pm, Wed. & Sat. at 2, Sun. at 3