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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beware the Killer Rabbits!

Monty Python’s loopy musical

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Q: What do you bring to a witch burning at the stake?

A: Marshmallows.

Q: What do you do when the movie script calls for a “horse,” but the budget can’t afford one?

A: Have the actor gallop along on his own legs, followed by a servant “clop-clopping” empty coconut shells, just as they do on radio.

Welcome to the wonderfully wicked, wacky-world wisdom of Monty Python’s Spamalot, a daft musical running for a week at the MarcusCenter for the Performing Arts starting April 29. From flying cows to a killer rabbit, Spamalot is the loopiest musical (“lovingly ripped off” from the 1975 film MontyPython and the Holy Grail) that ever trod theater boards in the 21st century. Or any other century, when it comes down to it.

 They’re all here from the King Arthur legend: Arthur himself and the Knights of the Round Table—principally Sir Galahad, Lancelot and Robin. Arthur tours Britain engaging courageous knights to assist in his quest for the Holy Grail, that chalice used by Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper. Believed to have been given to Jesus’ granduncle, St. Joseph of Arimathea, the cup came to Britain from someone’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Its whereabouts is subsequently forgotten, but Arthur believes he and his gutsy knights will locate it.

 Cerebral comedy doesn’t always seem to transfer well from society to society. Yet physical comedy—slipping on a banana peel and taking a pratfall—is bound to get a laugh everywhere in the world. And no one’s slipping better these days than Arthur and his Knights. Of course, if your suit of armor is “bespotted” inside it’s even more slippery than a subtropical fruit peel! And wouldn’t your suit be bespotted if you saw a cow flying through the air directly at you? “Run for it!” yells Arthur.

Inspired Lunacy

Spamalot (rhymes with King Arthur’s palace, Camelot) is more than crude, physical humor, however. Inspired lunacy might be expected from five Oxbridge-educated men (the late Graham Chapman who died in 1989, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, plus the witty American director from Minneapolis, Terry Gilliam). This group of six formed “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” for BBC television, debuting in May 1969. It took five years for that show to cross the Atlantic to late Sunday nights on America’s PBS stations, where it developed a cult following in the U.S. (it is even thought to have inspired “Saturday Night Live”).

 Several feature films would follow The Holy Grail, with all six men contributing as scriptwriters in addition to performing and directing. Given Idle’s quarter century’s performance experience with the group as well as solo, his musical book surpasses the movie’s competence despite the restrictions of a proscenium arch. This past March 18, the Broadway production celebrated its second anniversary at the Schubert Theatre, where it continues to play to capacity audiences. Tony-award winner Mike

 Nichols (long associated with successful Neil Simon plays) directed. It comes as no surprise that Spamalot won the “Best Musical” Tony for 2005 with composer John Du Prez and Eric Idle nominated for “Best Original Score.”

 But from whence the strange title, Spamalot? Could it be? Yes. It is named for the Hormel Food Corp.’s canned luncheon meat. During World War II, canned Spam numbered one of the very few meat products excluded from rationing in Britain. Too many cans to count were opened and consumed by families during the war and for a few years thereafter. In a sketch from a “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” episode, two British customers are trying to order a breakfast from a menu that includes the processed meat product in almost every dish. In TheHoly Grail movie, the Knights of the Round Table “eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.” Besides, Lerner & Lowe already wrote the copyrighted musical Camelot.

Spamalot runs April29-May 4 at the MarcusCenter for the Performing Arts