BWW Review: SPAMALOT at Lied Center For Performing Arts, Lincoln
I don't like Spam. To me, it's mystery meat and I don't like the taste. I looked it up on the internet to see what it is made from. It was introduced by Hormel in 1937 to increase the sale of pork shoulder. Few know the true origination of the name "Spam," but suggestions include "Specially Processed Army Meat." My favorite more colorful descriptions are "meatloaf without basic training" and "ham that didn't pass its physical." Spam has recently been adopted as the term for inappropriate or irrelevant messages that flood our inboxes. This all fits.
Contrary to my aforementioned comment, I do like SPAM...A-LOT. It's a real treat precisely because it is tasteless. It's crazy fun with zingers shooting all over the place, people doing the bizarre, and clever little inappropriate messages conveyed with tongue in cheek.
SPAMALOT, also billed as "Monty Python's SPAMALOT, A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail," is two full hours of delightful nonsense.
The original screenplay was a collaboration of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. I can only imagine how much fun these men had as they crafted this piece. Perhaps they even formed a dance line and sang silly songs as they marched up to their round table.
John DuPrez and Eric Idle wrote the music and Eric Idle wrote the book and lyrics. The musical opened on Broadway in 2005 and won a Tony Award for Best Musical while being nominated for a total of 14 awards. It went on to capture a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. SPAMALOT has played in London's West End, Broadway, all across the US and UK, Las Vegas, and at a variety of international locations. It's still going strong. But why? What's in this show?
SPAMALOT is a can filled with a little bit of everything. There are references to scenes from well known musicals such as the bottle dance in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, the dancing rivalry between the gangs in WEST SIDE STORY, and Barbra Streisand's "People," from FUNNY GIRL. I even sensed a nod to WIZARD OF OZ with their guards and their man behind the puppet. There's a dash of intrigue with James Bond, and a smattering of Las Vegas with glitzy showgirls and inappropriate shenanigans. There's a hint of social issues such as gender identification and same sex marriage, an autocratic government, and differences in religion.
The story heads straight for (well, maybe tipsily toward) a big musical finish. The problem is that Jews are a necessary ingredient for any successful musical. King Arthur and his knights are hard pressed to find Jews in their quest for the Holy Grail. One of the biggest laughs of the evening was King Arthur's sidekick, coconut clapping Patsy telling him that he didn't confess that he himself was Jewish because "it's not the sort of thing you say to a heavily armed Christian."
You may not need Andrew Lloyd Weber for a successful musical, but you do need performers who can play off this offbeat humor with seriousness, sing extremely well, and dance like pros. Steve McCoy (King Arthur) and Kasidy Devlin (Sir Robin) are definitely up to the task and lead a great cast.
Satire, slapstick, irony...it's all mixed up to build a ridiculously successful show that appeals to the crowd. There are too many good jokes to cover them all. My favorite, though, is Not Dead Fred.
The question of not being dead reappears throughout the show. After being around for the past 13 years, SPAMALOT is clearly not dead yet. What a way to bring the new 2018/2019 season to life!
Photo Credit: Scott Suchman