Thursday, October 11, 2007

and now for something...

...completely the same.

my column from the fort collins now of 10.6 on spamalot.


Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam. Try saying it aloud a few times—it’s fun!

But silly name aside, who would ever have thought that this odd, gelatinous, pink, spongy, meatish product, this humble, peculiarly American invention would one day be immortalized by a pack of too-educated, loopy Brits with a penchant for wearing women’s clothing and walking funnily? Somehow, an absurdist sketch on an obscure early 70s BBC program (or is that “programme”?) that no one thought would last beyond season one has spawned a multi-million dollar live theatre extravaganza called “Spamalot.” And it is a riotously funny and successful show—it’s still running on Broadway, and in London, Las Vegas and Melbourne.

The aforementioned loopy Brits are of course the troupe called Monty Python. And “Spamalot” is a triumph based loosely on their film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” but also borrows freely from other Python sketches and films, and includes new bits and songs penned by Python member Eric Idle. I was privileged to shell out way too much money to see the touring production of the show at the Temple Buell Theater last weekend, and highly recommend that you beg, borrow, steal, or sell body parts if need be in order to get tickets to see it before it leaves town on the 7th.

The original cast starred such luminaries as Tim Curry (of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fame) David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria, and Sara Ramirez, and the show has continued to sell out houses all over the country. Original Pythonites (we call ourselves OPs; there are support groups, meetings, gang colors and whatnot--but we don’t get a lot done) were enthusiastic of course. But what was amazing was that the bizarre and deeply disturbed sense of humor that is the signature of the Pythons has translated so well to a broader audience.

There are kneeless knights, ravenous rabbits, flatulent Frenchmen, and not-quite-passed-on plague victims reluctant to be carted off, all of which won gales of laughter from the audience. But then it potentially gets a bit more touchy for some: there are monks referring to the bible’s little-known Book of Armaments, a bitchy God (voiced by John Cleese), and a song titled “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews,” featuring snippets of various traditional Jewish songs and dances, and culminating with a giant, neon Star of David descending from the rigging.

And then there’s Sir Lancelot, who, through the ministrations of his new friend Herbert, discovers that he is a “different kind of guy” in the course of a massive disco song and dance number featuring bits of “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People.

In other words, the show pokes fun at just about everybody, and the audience seemed to understand that there was nothing malicious about it—although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend inviting your fundamentalist Uncle Fred to see it.

What’s most incredible though, is that in the course of offending nearly everyone, the musical also has written into it plenty of jokes aimed at musical theatre. Some critics have been harumphing that this ongoing cynical wink toward the ridiculous excesses of musical theatre is unnecessary and too precious. But swelling, over-the-top treacle like “This Is The Song That Goes Like This,” a dead-on parody of any song from any Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is exactly what musical theatre needs. The song features an earnest couple singing lines like, “I’ll sing it in your face/While we both embrace/And then we’ll change the key…”and thus points out that, indeed, musical theatre is an absurd artifice that takes itself far too seriously—exactly the type of thing the Pythons have always mocked.

For musical theatre snobs to be seriously offended by this gentle ridicule—and for there to even be such a thing as “musical theatre snobs”—is frankly hilarious in itself. It’s a show for everyone, that makes fun of everyone, including its writers and performers, and thus it’s universal.

Oh, and one last thing:


No comments: