The setup: A show this downright, deliciously silly is the drug-of-choice for legions of Pythonmaniacs, who still exist decades after the British TV troupe's demise and who can still quote whole sequences by rote. We -- and I include myself among the unrepentant acolytes of Monty Python's Flying Circus -- long for those heady days of their distinctive, anarchic comedy, a wild and wooly blend of the Marx Brothers, British panto, Alice in Wonderland, and Samuel Beckett.
As the subtitle proclaims, the show -- deliriously brought to us via Theatre Under the Stars and Kansas City Starlight Theatre -- is "lovingly ripped off" from the troupe's 1975 classic movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the ultimate slap at King Arthur and his round table, or as they say, his very very round table.
Written by Python alumni Eric Idle (music, book, and lyrics) and John Du Prez (music), all our favorite routines from the movie are here in the flesh -- the fatuous narrator, animator Terry Gilliam's cutout feet of God, the killer bunny, the taunting Frenchman ("I fart in your general direction."), the catapulting cow, the Knights who say Ni, Tim the Enchanter, Prince Herbert waiting to be rescued from his tower, hapless servant Patsy clopping together his coconut shell sound effects, and the clueless knights themselves: cowardly Sir Robin ("run away, run away"), rashly stupid Sir Lancelot, preening Sir Galahad, flatulent Sir Bevedere.
Into the stew, or should I say, added to the spam, is the diva Lady of the Lake and her gyrating Laker Girls, along with a host of Broadway knockoffs and put-downs, cheesily presented with tons of Las Vegas glitz and candy-colored glamour. For you see, the knights' quest for the grail, as commanded by the head Ni, not only demands a "shrubbery" as payment to pass through the dark forest, but requires these guys to put on a Broadway show. For Python purists, this Forbidden Broadway detour is bumpy at best, but the cheeky laughs come anyway. What Broadway babe can resist parodies of Frank Wildhorn, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Producers, the Boy from Oz, and even Fiddler on the Roof? The entire show, regardless of its cinema origins, is a wicked deconstruction of our modern musical. Think of it as Monty Python goes to Broadway, and you get the flavor. It pays reverence with irreverence. It mocks and strokes with equal pleasure.
The cast has a great time entertaining us, and sometimes entertaining themselves, as they ham it up with devilry and showstopping chutzpah. Except for Tom Hewitt, as stolid Arthur who can't believe his knights are so stupid, and Janine Divita, as an American Idol-wailing Lady of the Lake, all others play multiple parts, and have a ball doing so.
Especially delightful are Brian Sears as Patsy, Arthur's downtrodden servant, who gets to hoof it mightily in the show's best number, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (purloined from the Python's Life of Brian); Jonathan Hammond, who chews any and all scenery within view as The French Taunter, the Knight of Ni, Tim the Enchanter, and the disco-grinding, out-of-the-closet Lancelot; Jeremy Webb as Sir Robin, who struts his Broadway gypsy fantasies in the tastelessly funny "You Won't Succeed on Broadway;" Adam Monley, tossing his golden locks like both Jekyll and Hyde as Galahad, then losing all his limbs as the Black Knight ("it's only a flesh wound"); Kevin Covert, in hilarious drag as Galahad's mother; and Brian Shepard, as Not Dead Fred in the Black Death sequence and, later, the nightgown-wearing Prince Herbert. All get to shine in individual numbers, and they take to the light like gleeful little gnats.
Crisply directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, the show never stops moving, piling one-liners upon existential comedy routines, upon outright goofiness (arguing over what type of swallow could carry coconuts into England is classic Python). The fun never stops. The musical numbers only add to the nuttiness, which starts immediately with the out-of-context "Fisch Schlapping Song," because the chorus mistakenly hears Finland, not England. (Be sure to read your program, which will have you laughing even before the show begins.)
The verdict: Even if you've never heard of Monty Python -- which seems inconceivable! -- Spamalot, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2005, will thoroughly amuse. It beats you over the head with such sublime comedy, low and high, that you're left helpless, sore from laughing. This isn't three-card monte, it's the entire deck. Deal me in!
Gloriously silly, Monty Python's Spamalot tears up the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, through May 26. Purchase tickets online at TUTS.com or call 713-558-8887. Tickets start at $24.