Because I am a heterosexual male, I don’t see musicals. I think it’s a genetic thing. I’ve tried – I watched some musicals on television and even sat through Miss Saigon, completely bemused. Nothing. The only things that can affect me have humour – Blues Brothers and South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut are practically musicals but with comedy, and I can watch them endlessly.
If you add ‘slightly geeky’ to ‘heterosexual male’, you tend to find a Monty Python fan. It was seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail at an early age that switched me on to Python, so I have a fondness for it.
Which brings me to Spamalot. Now, I know I’m rather late in seeing this blockbusting musical, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion about it that I feel forced to share with you. I had to overcome my reluctance to musicals because of the curiosity of a Python fan: would Spamalot ruin the film with cheap songs?
The connection between music and Monty Python isn’t too big a stretch; Eric Idle always had wonderfully silly songs dotted throughout, so it wouldn’t take an excess of imagination to reimagine it as a musical. However, the extra ingredient that brings Spamalot to life is the exuberance of being a musical while also mocking the musical at the same time.
The Holy Grail film is suitable for turning in to other forms because it doesn’t work completely as a movie – it is essentially well-connected sketches that fall apart with the ending, as if no conclusion can be really satisfying (even if the breaking of the fourth wall is amusing). This means that the sketches can be used easily in the musical. In fact, there are entire sections of sketches that are used in the show: coconuts; ‘bring out your dead’; anarcho-syndicalist commune; the knights who say Ni; the taunting Frenchmen; Tim and the rabbit; the wedding. This means that I am automatically going to enjoy myself hearing them again. But then you add the music.
And the music is fun. Lots of fun. Knights of The Roundtable, which provided the title for the show, is elaborated into a Vegas show tune, and there is even place for Bright Side of Life. But there are lots of other fun songs. This Is The Song That Goes Like This mocks Lloyd Webber tunes, and is so good they use it again. (In fact, there are so many references to other musicals that a lot were lost on me; it was only via the Spamalot Wikipedia entry that I was able to understand them all.) A Finnish Schlapping Dance starts off proceedings in an appropriately silly fashion (harking back to the joke opening credits in the film), and there is a lovely song in the second half from the Lady in the Lake singing What Happened To My Part?, complaining about the fact that the show is mostly a boys-own event and there hasn’t been much room for her (absolutely amazing) singing. Even though it is a great number, the You Won’t Succeed song starts off with nobody laughing; I’ve never heard an audience that was enjoying something so much go so quiet so quickly after hearing the word ‘Jews’. I’ve been reliably informed that this song is an in-joke about Broadway, which perhaps gets lost in translation. The enthusiasm of the song wins the audience over in the end, but it was dicey for a few minutes. The variety of music is wide, as there is even time for some disco as Lancelot finally comes to the realisation that he is gay.
The show comes to a finale with a wonderful breaking of the fourth wall, with a member of the audience helping the quest the Holy Grail for them, which is perfectly suited to the spirit of the film but fits in even better in a musical, after the knights have been told that that the West End is the location of the Holy Grail. The musical also channels the spirit of the film by having the performers, apart from King Arthur, playing multiple parts. The actor playing Lancelot/Tim/Taunting Frenchman is particularly impressive in this respect. The actor playing King Arthur does a good job of playing the role instead of imitating Graham Chapman, with a much dryer delivery. The actor playing the Lady of the Lake gave a wonderful performance, with an incredible singing range.
All in all, the cast were a delight and, even though I saw a matinee, they gave a rousing performance that entertained everybody in the theatre. The sense of fun that permeated the whole show was fantastic. I’ve never enjoyed myself in the theatre as much. Spamalot is not Monty Python, even though it uses the sketches from the film; it is a wonderfully silly piece of fun entertainment. (This is appropriate: after the Camelot interlude, King Arthur sums it up with, ‘On second thoughts, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.’) I enjoyed it so much that I could easily have turned up to the evening show and watched it all again. However, I’m not sure if I particularly want to see the inevitable film version – I would rather just have a filmed version of the show I saw. Thoroughly deserving of all the success it has achieved, I would heartily recommend it to anyone, even if you’re not a Monty Python fan. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to start watching more musicals, though …