Can canned ham travel? Silly question. But silly — make that sublimely silly — is the operative word for the opening of the national tour of Broadway’s loopy Tony-winning smash, “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Through bad puns, fart jokes, cornball gags and deja vu musical parodies, the sweet, daft spirit of naughty bright boys at play is maintained in Mike Nichols’ crisp, clean and high-energy production.
The high proportion of middle-aged lost boys in the Boston aud eagerly applauding the appearance of Python set pieces featuring the Killer Bunny, the Black Knight, the Knights of Ni and Not Dead Fred bodes well for the show as it steps out into the hinterlands. Still, it was a savvy move to get the production off to a hearty start by preeming in a college town like Beantown. After all, it’s just a short step from Hasty Pudding to Pasty Python.
The giddiness of the show should also be infectious to those who are perhaps less devoted to the 1975 cult film classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” on which the musical was based. But those wishing for more substance — and maybe even some Python fans who feel that with this sunnier adaptation they’re not really getting the full Monty — would be within their rights to wonder what all the fuss is about. It would take a very special super-nerd or a very drunk frat boy to make a case for intellectual significance here. (Theater of the Absurd? Existentialism? Dada?) When you come down to it, “Spamalot” is simply overgrown schoolboys riffing with better production values.
Of course, one does have to look on the bright side of life from time to time, too.
Little has changed from the Gotham version. The gang of medieval bumblers are desperately seeking the Holy Grail (as suggested by God, voiced via recording by John Cleese). But what would be more useful to seek out would be a structure for the show. There’s the thinnest of storylines — King Arthur assembling his knights of the round table as they set out to find the grail — but even token narrative is catapulted, along with a cow, by the time act two comes around.
However, it’s clear from the beginning — with a big musical production number of Scandi dancers slapping each other with fish based on the word England being misheard as Finland — that the storyline is not what this show is about. Actually, nothing is what this show is about, except a little mindless musical madness and mayhem, which might make it the perfect show for escapist times.
Casting without names should not affect B.O. or the production. While some of these tittering twits have not yet fully figured out how to milk every line, the lively cast in general has found a comfortable comic rhythm.
Michael Siberry strikes the perfect note of daft imperiousness and pompous denseness as King Arthur. As the Lady of the Lake, Pia Glenn looks sensational and is a game comedian, but she doesn’t have the musical chops to blow the roof off the place. Jeff Dumas is delightfully deadpan as Patsy, the King’s packhorse servant (who has two of the show’s best numbers).
As the Broadway-bound Sir Robin, David Turner nicely fills David Hyde Pierce’s slippers. With his woebegone look, Tom Deckman pilfers nearly every scene he is in (Historian, Not Dead Fred, Minstrel and especially Prince Herbert). Bradley Dean is wonderfully vainglorious as Sir Dennis Galahad (and as Prince Herbert’s blustering father). Rick Holmes has sputtering fun as the French Taunter, but his gay musical number as Sir Lancelot just seems decades-old tired.
Tim Hatley’s set and costume design elements are expensively low-tech, even with flying elements, animated projections and special effects. Production team carefully ensure the musical does not look like something it is not. Indeed, the show is brilliant in being not too smart but rather just smart (and smartass) enough.
The show missteps with a few numbers. The trip to the Vegas-y “Camelot” has no snap (and lines like “What happens in Camelot stays in Camelot” point up Idle on idle. There are a few local and current-event lines to freshen the run as it traipses about. Another element of spontaneity comes when a member of the audience is brought onstage to be honored for inadvertently helping the boys find the grail.
The show owes a debt to Mel Brooks (for “The Producers” as well as his “Men in Tights”) and “Forbidden Broadway” for all the self-referential showbiz bits, which are many and the least of the fun.
Still, there’s no denying this once and future hit. For this mystery meat of a show, there’s no expiration date in sight.