CEDAR RAPIDS — The silly spirit of Monty Python descended upon the Paramount Theatre on a frigid Thursday evening (1/31/13). The theater was warm and full and the laughter was abundant.
“Spamalot” was pulled together by director Mike Nichols in 2005, and was a smash hit on Broadway. Productions of this musical appeared all over the world, with strong box office sales. “Lovingly ripped off” from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” this successful show is the results of the intersection of two comic traditions. Nichols in the Compass Players in Chicago, which morphed into Second City, and, of course, Monty Python.
The Pythons included a “talent gang” of a high order: Graham Chapman, John Cleese,Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Idle was the force behind “Spamalot,” credited with books and lyrics. He also wrote the music with John Du Prez. The music is primarily a spoof of Broadway musical styles, in particular Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the same, the musical celebrates itself, and is great fun all the way.
The choreography is terrible and funny. Particularly enjoyable was “The Laker Girls,” who are the attendants of the Lady of the Lake. They were cheerleaders and showgirls from Las Vegas.
The eventual arrival of King Arthur and his knights at Camelot, reveals that mythic kingdom to be a casino, and the roundtable a roulette wheel. Needless to say, the roulette table becomes a tap-dancing surface. And so it goes.
Favorite funny moments in this production include the attack on the French castle, with the defenders looking like coneheads, who taunt King Arthur obscenely and finally throw a cow over the ramparts. King Arthur’s dimwits leave a giant wooden rabbit, echoing the Trojan Horse of old, but they forget to hide inside.
And in a number echoing traditional Jewish music and dance, the choral “hey” is perfectly timed by a bale of hay appearing in a wagon. Silly, stupid gags — both verbal and visual — abound, and come very consistently. Most of them still work. The gay gags seem a bit stale, but the schtick works for the audience.
It is a pleasure to report that this show holds up well, particularly the Second Act. Perhaps it’s because of the one terrific song in the show, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” The song celebrates the high jinks of the evening, which are always good-natured and consistently stupid. Remember David Letterman’s “stupid pet tricks”? Well, this is one “stupid pet trick” every minute for two hours.
The sold-out audience had a great time. Some were a bit shocked by the language, but conquered by the comedic talent involved in the creation and the performance of the show.
The cast was uniformly excellent, as was the orchestra. These one-night performances at the Paramount are bus and truck tours: the next night in East Lansing, and so forth. The scenery must load in and out quickly, the sound must adapt to each new hall with immediate success. Congratulations to this hard-working, talented company, braving an Iowa winter to bring us some joy.
“Always look in the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble give a whistle
This will help things turn out for the best.”