“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Director: Mike Nichols
Book and lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez and Eric Idle
New York Premiere: Schubert Theatre, 17 March 2005 (Opening Night) through 11 January 2009.
London Premiere: Palace Theatre, 17 October 2006 (Opening Night) through 3 January 2009.
“Lovingly ripped off” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” this musical recreates scenes from the beloved 1975 film while skewering Broadway tropes, in a cheeky piece of music hall frivolity that copped three Tony Awards and went on to tremendous success in productions around the world.
On With The Show
In the 1980s Eric Idle pitched the idea of a stage musical based on the 1968 classic “The Producers” to that film’s director, Mel Brooks, who at the time said he wanted to concentrate on motion pictures. [Brooks would eventually bring “The Producers” to Broadway, where it won 12 Tonys.] But Idle was bitten by the bug, and looked into creating a stage version of Python when the group vetoed other reunion collaborations in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The history of post-Python projects,” Idle told New York Magazine, “has been like middle-age courtship – fraught with frustration, Byzantine negotiations, hot flashes, disappointing flurries of enthusiasm usually ending in stalemate, and droopy disappointment.”
He also wanted to bring back musical-comedy to the stage, after a dearth of “fun” shows owing to the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacles starring “a guy with a plate on his face.”
In 2002 Idle began collaborating with composer John Du Prez on a musical adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Before raising the prospect with his fellow Pythons (facing a possible veto of the idea), Idle worked two years on the book and created studio demos of the new songs, packing off the script and CD to each Python. Their responses were positive, and the show moved forward, pulling in veteran stage and film director Mike Nichols to take the reigns.
Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, as assigned by the voice of God (a cameo appearance by John Cleese), morphs into a quest for the magical land of Broadway, where the Grail is said to be, and where (as Sir Robin sings), you can’t succeed if you haven’t any Jews (“You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”).
The stage show has more of a through-line in the plot than the film, condensing characters and driving them towards their Grail goal. The corpse collector and the depositor of someone not quite dead in the “Bring Out the Dead” sketch become Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot, who join King Arthur’s army seeking adventure and thrills. Dennis, the argumentative peasant in “Constitutional Peasants,” becomes Sir Galahad, who is whisked off by the Lady of the Lake for a Broadway duet to end all duets (“The Song That Goes Like This”).
Many of the film’s most memorable sequences are recreated, from the taunting French Knights, to Tim the Enchanter and the Killer Rabbit. Even the Black Knight manages to have all his limbs hacked off on stage.
“You have to maintain true to the people, the purists who want to see this,” Idle told Playbill in 2004. “There are many out there; it’s a very popular movie. So there’s no point in straying too far from that. That’s what we’re doing. But at the same time, you have to recognize this is a stageshow.”
Some sketches from the film didn’t made it to the play, or were cut in previews, including the witch sequence, the Three-Headed Knight, the Castle Anthrax, and the Bridge of Death.
After previewing in Chicago, the production opened in New York with a cast featuring Hank Azaria, Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Sara Ramirez, Christian Borle, Michael McGrath, and Steve Rosen. The coconut-clapping knights would continue to brighten Broadway for four years.
“Fisch Schlapping Song,” “King Arthur’s Song,” “I Am Not Dead Yet,” “Come With Me,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” “All for One,” “Knights of the Round Table.” “Find Your Grail,” “Run Away,” “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” “Brave Sir Robin,” “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” “The Diva’s Lament,” “Where Are You?” “Here Are You,” “His Name Is Lancelot,” “I’m All Alone,” and “The Holy Grail.”
The original production for “Spamalot” received 14 Tony nominations, and won three awards – for Best Musical, Best Director, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Sara Ramirez). It also won Drama Desk Awards for New Musical, Lyrics, and Costume Design. The Original Cast Album also won a Grammy Award. The 2006 London production was also nominated for seven Olivier Awards.
The show toured extensively across the U.S. and U.K., while productions opened in Las Vegas, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden – but not Finland! And thanks to the show’s gay material (we learn something new about Lancelot), “Spamalot” was banned by the authorities of Malaysia, despite the fact that there were no plans to stage a production there.