TODAY'S PAPER
79° Good Morning
79° Good Morning
Lifestyle

BROADWAY REVIEW

Go ahead and believe the buzz emanating from the Shubert

Theatre. Eric Idle and Mike Nichols have indeed fashioned a Holy Grail of a

big, crowd-pleasing Broadway musical comedy out of the 1975 cult film "Monty

Python and the Holy Grail." The show slays 'em like Excalibur.

"Monty Python's Spamalot" is so polished and user-friendly, in fact, that

those whose adolescences were irreparably warped by "The Holy Grail" - and we

know who we are - will miss the low-budget flick's spiky, unapologetic anarchy.

Although the movie never really bothered with such inconveniences as plot

or character development, Idle, one of the original members of the

groundbreaking British comedy troupe Monty Python, has given "Spamalot" a

smidge of a story. It's just enough to make it plain that nothing much happens

here except a nominal excuse for entirely gratuitous, occasionally inspired

silliness.

The unevenly amusing Arthurian antics are presented with so much panache,

however, that it's probably churlish to complain. Under the assured, regally

goofy direction of Nichols, the all-star team of David Hyde Pierce ("Frasier"),

Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons") and Tim Curry ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show")

have an obvious blast as the knights whose quest for the Holy Grail leads them

to a carnivorous bunny, a taunting Frenchman and a preposterously tenacious

Black Knight.

The breakout in this boys' club, though, proves to be the show's leading

lady, Sara Ramirez, playing both the Lady of the Lake and, in typically

self-aware Python fashion, the stage diva playing the Lady. Looking demonically

possessed by her own sense of melodrama, Ramirez channels everyone from Sarah

Brightman to Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch. She owns every

self-indulgent display of vocal acrobatics with a hilarious intensity that

makes the character all her own.

Curry, evincing not the slightest effort to conceal his amusement with

himself, oozes good-natured smarm as Arthur. Hyde Pierce, portraying the

cowardly knight Sir Robin (among others), underplays the comedy so slyly that

you might not notice how meticulously he has modulated his performance. Azaria

gets all the really fun parts, playing not only the butch Sir Lancelot, but

also hamming it up as a vulgar French taunter and a woozy Knight of Ni.

Invaluable contributions come from the elastic Christian Borle, in a

variety of roles that include the girly Prince Herbert; Christopher Sieber, as

a vainly blond Sir Galahad, and Michael McGrath, as the grubby second-fiddle

who clip-clops those famous coconuts.

Idle and composer John Du Prez endow "Spamalot" with its own anthem, "Find

Your Grail," both deeply dopey and kind of sweet in spite of itself, and a mock

power ballad called "The Song That Goes Like This." Both are more successful

than the second-act tunes about Jews and gays, which offer little more than

warmed-over political incorrectness.

Set and costume designer Tim Hatley draws equally from the medieval

cartoons from the movie and the glitz of old-fashioned Broadway. Python purists

may wish that the show as a whole resorted less often to cheerily stupid

razzle-dazzle: The Lady of the Lake's "Laker Girls," complete with pompoms, and

a Vegas-ized Camelot are among the show's less clever components.

Still, the creators of "Spamalot" make an effort to include a little

something for everyone. If the opening nonsense about Finland doesn't rouse so

much as a giggle, don't miss the fake in-depth program notes for a musical

about the Finnish economy. It's some of the funniest original material of the

evening.

SPAMALOT. Book by Eric Idle, music and lyrics by John Du Prez and Idle,

directed by Mike Nichols. Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St. between Broadway and

Eighth Avenue, Manhattan. Tickets $36.25-$101.25.

Call 212-239-6200 or

visit www.telecharge.com.

Seen Tuesday.

More Lifestyle