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Sunday, June 03, 2007


Tonight Niles and I went to see the musical Spamalot, which is playing here in town.

The plot, such as it is, deals with King Arthur's quest to find some knights to help him in chivalrous deeds, although he's not clear on what these will be. But then they receive a quest from God: the All-Knowing has apparently misplaced the Holy Grail. After chasing after that for a bit they get separated, and we see them wandering around having adventures and being beset by various annoyances. Finally they are reunited, overcome the Killer Rabbit and learn the location of the Grail. It's under one of the seats in the audience. No, really. Down on the floor, not up in the nosebleeds, where we were. And we end with a big number and a couple of weddings.

During the first half of the first act it seemed as if the show would be entirely made up of musical versions of the best bits from Monty Python and the Holy Grail -- which would be sort of interesting, I guess, but hardly worth the effort. But after the scene with Dennis (of the anarcho-syndicalist commune) it picks up. The Lady of the Lake puts in an appearance, and drags Dennis away to return him as Sir Dennis Galahad. This is a gorgeous little scene, with lovely shiny costumes and a moving boat and cheerleaders wielding electric cattails.

Other good bits are "We're the Knights of the Round Table" (where Camelot is revealed to look suspiciously like the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas), "Whatever Happened to My Part?" in which the Lady of the Lake laments the fact that she hasn't been on stage for fifteen minutes or so (done while scenery is being changed behind the curtain), and "His Name Is Lancelot", where Lancelot discovers that he's gay (simply faaaabulous costumes in this number).

But my favorite was "You Won't Succeed On Broadway". You see, the Knights Who Until Recently Said 'Ni', after receiving the tribute shrubbery from Arthur, demand a second sacrifice -- namely, that Arthur produce a Broadway musical. Arthur's game, but has no idea how to go about it. Brave Sir Robin appears and cautions him that it's impossible, because...

In any great adventure,
that you don't want to lose,
victory depends upon
the people who you choose.
So, listen, Arthur darling,
closely to this news:
You won't succeed on Broadway,
If you don't have any Jews.

The audience, who took (or would take, I forget) Lancelot's homosexuality completely in stride, seemed stunned. My God, can they say that?

Niles didn't get it, and had to have it explained to him later. Surely that couldn't have been true of everyone in the audience. (If you don't get it, then recall the question oft asked of Mark Steyn: "You're a huge fan of musicals, and you're not Jewish or gay??")

The Quest for the Grail turns momentarily into the Quest for a Jew, until Patsy, Arthur's faithful servant and coconut man, reveals that he's Jewish on his mother's side.

Arthur: But why didn't you mention that before?
Patsy: Well, it's not the sort of thing you say to a heavily-armed Christian.

That got a huge laugh from the audience, but only a small one from me, for the Ghost of Crises Present hovered over my shoulder and made snarky remarks.

I had heard that Spamalot was a parody, and I wondered how they were going to parody something that was already a parody; but it's a parody of musicals, not of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You'd think that would have been done by now, but -- being neither Jewish nor gay -- I can't think of any instances offhand (aside from everything by Andrew Lloyd Webber, of course).

Aside from a rather too heavy reliance on lines removed in bulk from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, my one criticism is that sometimes the acoustics weren't very good, and you couldn't hear the lines. Niles and I think that was the reason for the leaden reception of the taunting Frenchman. His accent, bien sûr, was outrraaageous, which meant a lot of people couldn't understand the silly son of unmarried amphibians.

Wikipedia has a Spamalot page which may contain facts. Apparently the tour version changes some lines depending on venue. Our version had Arthur telling the "peasant"[1] under whose seat the grail was found that her name will be revered in Houston along with that of Yao Ming. (The reverent way he said "Yao Ming" did make it funny. Try it yourself, remembering to use a plummy British accent. It's fun!)

Also, the Knights Who Say 'Ni' changed to the Knights Who Say 'Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Ping The Stars At Night Are Big And Bright...' I'm guessing you could tell the native Texans in the audience by the fact that they reflexively performed the ritual four claps required by the song. Or maybe they'd just seen the show before.

[1]Anyone who can afford to drop the kind of change necessary to get a seat in the fourth row is no "peasant", baby.