From a very British television sketch series, to a very British film, the very British Eric Idle has created Monty Python’s Spamalot, which may be the most authentic, bona fide American Broadway musical that I have seen to date in Toronto. Spamalot is a musical “lovingly ripped off” the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical, toured to Toronto in 2006, and is back for a limited engagement at the Canon Theatre until October 5th, 2008.
It short: Spamalot is a very funny show that leaves its audience uplifted, entertained and most likely singing along. If you are a fan of Monty Python, it is a must-see. Eric Idle has done a brilliant job of bringing his film to the stage.
The show is framed as a classic Broadway musical, with all of the conventions, stereotypes and clichés that have marked the genre from early in its history. However, Spamalot uses contemporary popular culture references, broad humor and a great deal of pastiche to allow its audience to appreciate these “Broadway musical” clichés, while still being able to remain at a safe, Brechtian, postmodern distance. At the same time, it is hard not to appreciate a stage filled with chorus girls in sparkly bikinis dancing in perfect tandem, fireworks exploding from a chandelier, a tap number where a group of knights perform with umbrellas, the largest and most sparkling Star of David ever created, a back flipping frog, and an entire stage filled with exuberant, multitalented people, singing and dancing, often at the same time, as though it were the simplest thing in the world. These people look as though they are having the most fun of their lives. It is hard not to smile when treated to such a show.
There is no doubt that every performer who graces the stage in Spamalot is gloriously talented. The sound quality in the theatre is the best that I have heard in Toronto- and the show-stopping numbers pack a punch that most musicals produced here aren’t able to muster. That said, standout performances include, Jonathan Hadary’s perfect portrayal of King Arthur, which didn’t leave me whining about missing Tim Curry half as much as I expected to. Esther Stilwell is a powerhouse of vocal talent as the Lady of the Lake, and she uses conventional musical theatre belting as well as elements of pop music and jazz to awe the audience throughout the show. James Beaman’s understudy Matt Allen was delightful as the singing, dancing showman Sir Robin; Christopher Sutton is especially hysterical as Prince Herbert, who appears like a hybrid of Gene Wilder meets Michael’s McDonald’s famous character Stuart from MADtv. Patrick Heusinger as the French Taunter really brings down the house, although his wide range of talents are displayed in his portrayals of Sir Lancelot, the Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter.
I have recently read an article about the reception of Shakespearean shows in the nineteenth century, when audience members frequently booed, cheered, interrupted the actors, hissed, and threw rotten pumpkins at the stage. I felt as though I had gone back in time while watching Monty Python’s Spamalot despite their allusions to Britney Spears. Firstly, the Canon Theatre, originally the Pantages, was built in 1920 by Thomas W. Lamb, which immediately connects its audience to the history of Vaudeville and early film in Toronto. It is also arguably the most elegant and breathtakingly beautiful theatre here. At the same time, the audience I shared my theatre experience with, was obviously laden with hardcore Monty Python fans, as there was a great amount of shouting out, singing and whistling along, and general merriment in a quite boisterous and palpable manner. I found this to be an enriching experience, and one that is not often found in the discreet and polite theatres of today.
The one question I was left with was, how many people who would have truly enjoyed this musical and this experience, who would have gotten the jokes and cherished the connection to the film, were missing from the audience because tickets to such opulent extravaganzas as musical theatre tend to be quite more expensive than movie tickets and even DVDs? It is no doubt that maintaining a theatre such as the Canon is expensive, as well as producing a Broadway touring show, paying the actors, clothing them, and building “very expensive forests.” It is clear to me that corners cannot be cut. However, I still wonder. If films like Mamma Mia! can make $27,751,240 dollars (US) in a single weekend, while movie tickets are sold for under $12.00 dollars each, could it be possible that by reducing the price of theatre tickets, it would increase the number of audience members, and either equal itself out, or possibly produce a profit? Food for thought.
That said, if you can afford a pricey Mirvish show right now, Monty Python’s Spamalot is definitely the one you should see! It plays at the Canon Theatre until October 5th, 2008. 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 593-4225 or 1-800-771-3933 or http://www.mirvish.com/.