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Every time I spotted Fisher Theatre honcho Alan N. Lichtenstein wandering through the crowd at the opening night of “Spamalot” last week there was a great big smile on his face.
And for a very good reason!
For not only are tickets to this much-anticipated musical comedy flying out of the box office window – a trick many theaters don’t see very often these days – it’s a damn fine show, too!
So maybe there IS a Santa Claus, Virginia – only his REAL name is Monty Python! (Okay, so Monty Python isn’t a real person – maybe. Some claim it’s just a name Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin invented to front their various showbiz endeavors – such as the PBS show “The Flying Circus” that introduced Americans to this very British troupe of comedians – but we’ll likely never know for sure.)
No matter, for in 1975 the low-budget “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” hit the screen and took a generation by storm. And 30 years later it’s a Tony Award-winning stage musical that’s thrilling yet another generation to the exploits of an ancient king in search of a legend – and Jews.
Yes, Jews. But I won’t tell you why.
Without revealing too much and spoiling your fun, “Monty Python’s Spamalot” is a pun-infested, politically incorrect and laugh-out-loud romp through Europe circa 932 A.D. King Arthur, played with the perfect blend of magisterial authority and cluelessness by Michael Siberry, is scouring the land with his merry, motley band of knights seeking the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. They eventually find it, of course, but the route is not a straightforward one, as the skeletal story serves only to dish up every opportunity to generate laughs – cheaply or not.
And that’s one of the charms of this Eric Idle-penned musical. For sprinkled liberally throughout the show are vast quantities of verbal wordplay – some that immediately hit you over the head and run away, while others take a moment to sink in – as well as the requisite sight and sound gags that will leave you giggling like a sixth grader.
What’s equally impressive, though, are the show’s memorable tunes by Idle (music and lyrics) and John Du Prez (music). Act One’s “The Song That Goes Like This” is a delightful poke at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overwrought musical numbers, while the breezy “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” evokes the movie musicals of the 1930s and 40s. And the sinfully witty “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” is a showstopper.
Although no one’s name will jump out at you in the playbill, the show’s entire cast is top notch.
Sexy Pia Glenn’s Lady of the Lake has attitude for days, topped only by a superb singing voice.
Christopher Sutton and Patrick Heusinger come out swinging as Prince Herbert and Sir Lancelot in the disco-inspired “His Name is Lancelot.” And Jeff Dumas (Patsy), Bradley Dean (Sir Dennis Galahad) and Robert Petkoff (Sir Robin) are simply enchanting.
Direction by Mike Nichols is perfect, and Tim Hatley’s impressive set does indeed look expensive.
‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tuesday-Sunday, through Jan. 6, 2007. Tickets: $30-$85. For information: (313) 872-1000 or http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com