Monty Python’s Spamalot” finally arrives in L.A. in the wake of three Tonys, four years in Gotham and a hundred-city tour, though as a celebration of the inimitable Brit sketch team’s 40th anniversary, tuner is more enthusiastic than representative. Creators Eric Idle and John Du Prez have jettisoned the unique grit and bite from source pic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” retaining a bunch of memorable lines and routines for fans to revel in. Colorful as a candy box and every bit as nourishing, “Spamalot” gets its laughs and promptly recedes from the memory.
The action still hinges on the quest of King Arthur (John O’Hurley) and knights to locate the Holy Grail at the behest of God (voiced by John Cleese), but this band of brothers can barely summon up the energy to care about the search. They trudge dutifully from setpiece to setpiece — that is, from bits of familiar sketches to outlandish production numbers — all connected by little more than brio.
Before “burlesque” came to connote X-rated sleaze, it referred to large-scale spoofery of serious pop culture, and in that sense “Spamalot” is classic burlesque: a little “West Side Story” here, a large chunk of “Fiddler” there; a smidgen of “La Cage aux Folles” vs. a whole lot of Vegas. Du Prez and Idle’s tunes run the gamut from Motown to Broadway, tap numbers and jazz hands in counterpoint with “American Idol”-esque caterwauling (the latter mostly provided by witty, pulchritudinous diva Merle Dandridge).
And just as burlesque auds would begin cheering at a familiar sketch’s first words — “Slowly I turn!,” “Meet me round the corner!” — the Ahmanson’s Pythonmaniacs roar at the very appearance of the French taunter, Black Knight and killer rabbit (some nice puppetry and special effects there). Even those unfamiliar with these old routines are likely to get caught up in the glee of it all, especially as gussied up with Tim Hatley’s sumptuous sets and costumes and Elaine J. McCarthy’s witty, Terry Gilliam-inspired projections.
It’s not always easy to tell the knights apart given the paucity of distinctive personalities, but they deliver Python wordplay with droll ease. In contrast with his preening turn in the Vegas engagement, O’Hurley brings out Arthur’s befuddlement and vulnerability, his echoes of the late Graham Chapman serving as tuner’s single most genuine tribute to the original troupe.
Ensemble’s opening night spirits were high, but it’s been a long tour. Precision was distinctly lacking in Casey Nicholaw’s dance numbers, and it was well into act two before Idle’s lyrics could be completely understood.