Back when Monty Python’s “Spamalot” opened on Broadway in 2005, the musical quickly became famous in a couple of ways: One, it was awarded the Tony for best musical, beating out “The Light in the Piazza,” which remains the greatest musical of this century. And two, the lines at the men’s room at “Spamalot” were reportedly longer than those at the women’s.
That second factoid came from the New York Times and its article on the show titled “’Spamalot’ Discovers the Straight White Way.” Yes, the Old Gray Lady applauded unreservedly: Here was a Broadway musical, finally, that heterosexual men could enjoy, too. Imagine today’s newspaper of record publishing an article in praise of a show because it made straight, white men feel safe in the theater.
A revival of “Spamalot” opened Thursday at the St. James Theatre, and its appeal is that it trashes Broadway musicals, all the while offering up derivative songs, by Eric Idle and John du Prez, that feed from the corpses of “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Funny Girl” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” among many others. The show is part “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” its source material, and “Forbidden Broadway,” which hasn’t been heard from much lately. When that spoof revue was in top form, it delivered satiric stagings of current Broadway musicals. The “Spamalot” revival that opened this week gives the hook to shows that had closed or were super-long-running even in 2005. The mustiness now is downright allergy-inducing. One visual reference to “Man of La Mancha” delivered not a laugh at the preview I attended, but then, it has been a while since TCM aired the movie version.
The audience reaction at the St. James is decidedly more animated regarding the over-the-top performance of Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer. She plays the Lady of the Lake, which is the show’s drag-queen role. The Lady is a diva and indulges in all the caterwauling and overuse of melisma that are a hallmark of the Disney princess roles in musicals. Why audiences laugh at Kritzer’s delivery of songs and then turn around to lap up overblown crap like “Let It Go” remains a mystery.
Long stretches of this “Spamalot” appear run by an automatic pilot who’d overdosed on speed. A manic quality often substitutes for anything resembling wit.
However, the comedy often comes to life whenever a handful of performers grab the spotlight. In addition to Kritzer, they are Christopher Fitzgerald (a put-upon sidekick), Ethan Slater (a puckish prince), Michael Urie (a nonviolent knight) and Nik Walker (a studly knight).
Josh Rhodes directs.
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