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Lucy Komisar

“Spamalot” shows real politics as diverting musical fantasy parody

Book and lyrics by Eric Idle. Music by Idle and John Du Prez.
Directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes.
St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St, NYC. 
https://spamalotthemusical.com/ or 888-985-9421. Runtime 2:20.

“Spamalot” was a 1975 Monty Python film and a 2005 Broadway play famous for offending particular sectors of society. Does that hold up? Can you still insult significant groups without being cancelled? Can you attack sacred cows (vaches) without being de-platformed? On the other hand, has book and lyric writer Eric Idle taken the easy way out by sucking up to the groups that wield power in the theatrical system? And can I get away with suggesting it?

James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

The play is a fascinating story of real events and politics set against a fantasy parody that audiences have to be smart to understand. The framing device is the Arthurian legend of the search for the Holy Grail. England 932 AD. Monks bang their heads with holy books. First target, religion. But that passes, for the moment.

King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart, in fine baritone and good nature) is traveling the kingdom of Mercia (an anagram of America?) to round up a Round Table. The horse’s trot and canter are created by his servant’s clicking halves of a coconut.

Michael Urie as Robin, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

He comes upon the peasant Robin (a charming Michael Urie) who immediately sees the reality. He says, “you’ve got two empty halves of coconut and you’re banging them together…where’d you get the coconuts?
Arthur: “We found them.”
Robin: “In Mercia? The coconut’s tropical!”

Another problem is the plague. Shouts of “Bring out your dead!” lead to my favorite number, “I’m not dead yet.” Prospective knight Lancelot (Taran Killam), showing his true colors, hits a live victim on the head with a shovel. The corpses will later sing, “Look on the bright side!”

But back to politics, which is the best part of the show. Arthur comes upon Dennis Galahad (the fine Nik Walker) who objects to being treated like an inferior!
Arthur: Well, I am king…
Dennis: (a Cockney) Oh, king, eh, very nice. And how’d you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers. By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society! If there’s ever going to be any progress…

Nik Walker as Galahad, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

Mother: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Dennis: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes…
Mother: Oh, there you go, bringing class into it again.
Dennis: That’s what it’s all about. If only people would…

Arthur: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who is your lord?
Mother: We don’t have a lord.
Dennis: We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of an executive officer for the week…but each decision of that officer has to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting…  by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs…but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more…

Arthur: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet! 
Mother: Oh! Order, eh? Who does he think he is?
Arthur: I am your king!
Mother: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.
Mother: Well, how did you become king then?
Arthur: Well, I’ll tell you. One day, as I was riding forth from Camelot, I saw a lady in the lake!

The story is that by Divine Providence Arthur was to get and carry the sword Excalibur.
Dennis: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

The French Taunter (Taran Killam) waves flag as Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart) leads knights, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Charles and Camilla exist by this feudal fraud. No British monarchs have had any legitimate right to rule except by (following military supremacy) some fantasy a cowed or gullible populace accepted. Supported by elitist soi-disant “republicans” in the U.S. and elsewhere. How offensive is this to real democrats?

So that’s the serious stuff. More like Las Vegas, the lake becomes a stadium with show girls in white glitter. (Feminist note, why are the women in bikinis and the men fully clothed?) And Dennis joins the Round Table.

Next big event occurs at a French castle. Do audiences know that the French and Brits (Monty Python is British) fought each other for centuries? Do schools teach that? So, the French Taunter (Taran Killam, waving the Tricolor) insults the approaching Brits with Bronx cheers and faked flatulence. French people pour out of the fortress gates, Napoleon, a baker, a lady with a white poodle, and the best, a Marcel Marceau doing mime. Then, “Fetchez la vache;” a cow is catapulted onto the Brits. My take: juvenile, except for the mime.

The Lady of the Lake (the terrific Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer) sings about a song that “goes on and on.” The knights’ “All for one” is a two-step. “Find your grail” is done to dance and music of R&B. The musical interludes (choreography by director John Rhodes) were top notch.

Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart), knights, and chorines in a soft shoe, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

Some more to delight or offend, depending on where you are in identity politics. (Obviously, I choose class politics.)

“You won’t succeed on Broadway” unless you have some Jews. A marquee highlights Streisand, Bette Midler, Mel Brooks, Sondheim, George Santos. Santos??? A fiddler with a violin stands on a cabin roof and plays “Danny Boy.” My take: tacky.

The next part should have been called, “You won’t succeed on Broadway” unless you have some gays.  Prince Herbert (Ethan Slater) doesn’t want to marry the women his father chose: “I don’t like her.” He is rescued by Lancelot who thinks he is a distressed damsel, but is glad to find he is gay because so is he, and he reappears in a glittery body stocking backed up by red-costumed Latin dancers. My take: garish.

Galahad and Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as Lady of the Lake, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

I liked the song and dance, especially the soft shoe and tap numbers. The Lady of the Lake (Kritzer) in front of a red curtain and spotlight, is a standout with the “Diva’s Lament,” “Whatever happened to my part?  It was exciting at the start. Now we’re half-way through act two.  And I’ve had nothing yet to do. I’ve been off stage for far too long. It’s ages since I had a song. This is one unhappy diva….” The very talented Kritzer moves between country, jazz, R&B, she does it all.

Back to social politics. Arthur sings, “I’m all alone. No one here beside me. “He blatantly ignores his aide Patsy (the delightfully comic, quirky Christopher Fitzgerald) who protests, “Because I’m working class, I am just the horse’s ass. He sells me down the river. So, what am I? Chopped liver?”

Christopher Fitzgerald as Patsy and James Monroe Iglehart as King Arthur, photo Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman.

So now Arthur wants to be in a Broadway show. Are there any Jews here? Patsy was Jewish on his mother’s side.  He explains, “It’s not the sort of thing you say to a heavily armed Christian.” Funny.

Back to the first target, religion. A “holy hand grenade.” The church supporting war, get it? “And the Lord spake, saying, ‘First shalt thou take out the holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. …And now the Congregation shall rise and sing Hymn 101: “Get Your Hand Off My Knee, You Dirty Old Bastard.” First you kill, then you sexually abuse. The history seems right.

There’s a gorgeous finale. Not a great show. But clever, amusing, lots of funny schticks. Director Rhodes does an amazing job of mixing the politics and the vaudeville, holding it all together. Not sure the politics got over.


Visit Lucy’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com/


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