Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle; Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle; Directed by Mike Nichols. (CLOSED)
The critics agree: Spamalot is basically cobbled together recycled material from Monty Python's cinematic output, combining jokes from Flying Circus with their three movies (Life of Brian, Meaning of Life, Holy Grail) stitched around a few new songs (and some old ones) and high production values. The question they debate is whether or not this is a problem. John Lahr at The New Yorker is ecstatic, happy to see the Pythonian take on musical theatre excess, many reviewers are simply in awe of its ability to provide pleasure. David Cote, Michael Feingold and Howard Kissel dissent, taking the position that just because something is widely enjoyed by its audience doesn't make it any good (see Mia!, Mamma) . Cote in particular raises the why bother? question, as in Why bother seeing this show when the versions of these jokes available on DVD are better and cheaper?. All of the performers (none of whom are still in the show) get universal acclaim.
The New Yorker A
The English in the audience will recognize—in the show’s relentless punning, its sing-along, its summoning onstage of a “peasant” from the audience—the show’s debt to British pantomime. The Americans will recognize—in the nods to Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim, and the arid slickness of romantic Broadway duets—their own musical tradition. But audience members would have to be from Mars not to recognize Spamalot as a smash hit. A response to the Broadway musical’s overproduced and overfreighted attempts at significance, the show is literally a slap in the face with a wet fish.
(Ben Brantley) Resplendently silly...It seems safe to say that such a good time is being had by so many people (including the cast) at the Shubert Theater that this fitful, eager celebration of inanity will find a large and lucrative audience among those who value the virtues of shrewd idiocy, artful tackiness and wide-eyed impiety. That includes most school-age children as well as grown-ups who feel they are never more themselves than when they are in touch with the nerdy, nose-thumbing 12-year-olds who reside within.
USA Today A-
(Elysa Gardner) In Monty Python's Spamalot... the new musical "lovingly ripped off" from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, England's great leader of legend is at once reduced and rejuvenated by some of the funniest antics introduced on a Broadway stage since ... well, since the dawn of another musical lovingly ripped off from a cult comedy classic: Mel Brooks' The Producers.
(David Rooney)The show is an even more episodic patchwork than the British comedy team's movies, but the irreverent Arthurian romp's brash, lunatic spirit is impossible to ignore and almost as hard to resist... Like the film, Idle's book here is a string of comic sketches posing as an Arthurian epic, and the tuner works best when it re-imagines those scenes. Instilling fluidity or momentum into the slapdash chronicle of Arthur's recruitment of the knights and their quest for the Holy Grail was never going to be a prime concern.
(Gordon Cox) Although the movie never really bothered with such inconveniences as plot or character development, Idle, one of the original members of the groundbreaking British comedy troupe Monty Python, has given Spamalot a smidge of a story. It's just enough to make it plain that nothing much happens here except a nominal excuse for entirely gratuitous, occasionally inspired silliness.
TimeOut NY C-
(David Cote) While undiscriminating Monty Python fans may thrill to hear reenactments of the troupe’s classic routines, its anarchic, zany spirit has been dulled and sweetened to make for commercial pliability. Despite Mike Nichols’s witty staging, Spamalot just isn’t as hilarious or daring as the material that inspired it.
NYDaily News C-
(Howard Kissel) All too often I was reminded of Mamma Mia! - the Python fans around me greeted familiar routines the way the "Mamma Mia!" audience laughed when it recognized the ABBA songs in their new context. This kind of "recycling" encourages the audience to congratulate itself for what it already knows, rather than experience anything fresh. (Maybe that's not a bad thing, since Mamma Mia! is likely the most successful musical in theater history.)
Village Voice C-
(Michael Feingold) At its better moments, Spamalot hints at the insouciant spirit of the early Rodgers & Hart shows. Granted, it does this only in a recycled and unfocused way, without the originality, the wit, and the depth of feeling that made Rodgers & Hart's insouciance meaningful, but you can't have everything. Ours is an unfocused, recycling time, and audiences have to take what laughs they can get.
The New Yorker A 13; USA Today A-12; NYTIMES A-12; Variety B+ 11; Newsday B 10; TONY C-6; NYDN C- 6; VV C- 6; Total = 76 / 9.5 = B/B-