Only Tim the Enchanter is airborne, but in all other respects Monty Python has finally found his Flying Circus in “Spamalot,” Tony-winning Arthurian sendup newly stripped-down (in more ways than one) to inaugurate the Grail Theater at the eye-popping Wynn Hotel and Casino. It’s as enjoyable, if ultimately as disposable, as the goodies sold in the lobby Snackalot stand, and neither the die-hard Python fan nor the shopper in quest of classic Vegas entertainment is likely to say “Ni.”
Though billed as “lovingly ripped off” from 1975’s “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Spamalot” truthfully has only a tangential relationship to that deeply cynical satire of class and history. Original troupe member Eric Idle has recycled and rearranged iconic scenes and lines – the killer rabbit, taunting Frenchman, clip-clop coconuts, “I’m not dead yet” – but with a jaunty brio much at odds with film’s damp, dreary realism. Show seems the product of addicts who delightedly remember key routines but haven’t seen the movie for years.
Tuner’s real antecedents are “The Producers,” which made Broadway equal-opportunity offensiveness palatable and marketable, and going back aways, “Hellzapoppin.” Breaking the fourth wall more timidly than did Olsen and Johnson’s anarchic prewar vaudeville (would that it went further in that direction), “Spamalot” shares a single-minded interest in dames, dance, dumb jokes and decolletage. Perfect for Vegas, eh wot?
Achieving an intermissionless 90 minutes suits show down to the ground; it seems much tighter, with fewer slow patches and no loss of musical content. Libretto is little more than a series of song cues interrupted by an occasional longish sketch, but Idle and helmer Mike Nichols don’t care and neither do we. Just enough plot – involving the quest for the Grail and the need to go to Broadway, or is it Vegas?; ach, whatever – remains to give the impression of a full-blown musical comedy, albeit one playing just like a revue.
The Wynn’s Knights lack the name recognition and high profile of such Gotham originals as David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria, but are equally skillful Python mimics and can sing and move with the best. All in all this is the dancingest “Spamalot” ever; one can feel choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s glee at directing an ensemble in which everyone has happy feet. Except for the Black Knight, of course.
Ben Stiller-lookalike Harry Bouvy has the musical chops to sell the Broadway-bound Sir Robin, and Justin Brill’s indefatigable servant Patsy proves that droll character comedy can come across even on the hugest of stages.
John O’Hurley’s King Arthur struts and preens and exudes an easy authority. If “Spamalot” runs, and there’s no reason to suspect it won’t, he might try pushing himself out of his “Seinfeld”-honed, knowingly-raised-eyebrow comfort zone in favor of some honest befuddlement at others’ japery. As yet he falls short of the pathos achieved by the late Graham Chapman on film or Simon Russell Beale on stage. (Yes, pathos is possible even amidst all this tomfoolery.)
Above all, Nikki Crawford is a diva to die for as the Lady of the Lake. Beyond her scalding belt in the Lloyd Webber power-ballad parody “The Song That Goes Like This,” and an ability to channel Cher, Liza, and Jennifer Hudson (in the anthemic “Find Your Grail”) that any Strip celeb impersonation show would envy, Crawford is blessed with pulchritude that in this medieval context sets one musing on cantilevered construction and the flying buttress. Critical language is inadequate to describe it, but “va va voom” comes close.
Tim Hatley predictably and delightfully takes his original set and costume designs into even greater flights of Vegas-inspired fancy, though for some reason the much-mentioned “Very Expensive Forest” doesn’t look so expensive here. Meanwhile, he’s decorated theater’s lobby with all manner of Pythoniana, including the original bird used in the “Albatross” sketch. Remember? John Cleese sold it off an ice cream tray along with “stormy petrel-on-a-stick.” Now there’s a Grail for Python fans to seek out.