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Theater Review: "Monty Python's Spamalot"

Lest you think that all of us in the bleachers are completely uncultured, most of us have been for years, big fans of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the British TV show of the late 60's-early 70's, and particularly of the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", a film most of us (I'm almost embarrassed to say) have seen dozens of times, and often during a ballgame, lines from the film come out of the mouths of me, or Mike, or Jeff, or Howard...

It is along those lines that when I learned that this classic movie was to be made into a stage production, last summer, I suggested to Howard that we all go.

This turned into a production in itself, and after Howard was done working with group sales, there were approximately forty of us who met at the Shubert Theater in downtown Chicago for yesterday's matinee performance.

We here in Chicago are very, very fortunate that the Broadway in Chicago organization has brought so many first-class shows here, and in recent years shows like "The Producers", and now "Spamalot", have had their world premieres here, before going to New York and larger fame and fortune.

There are only two weeks left in the Chicago run of "Spamalot", before it opens in New York on February 14, and it is sold out (though I have heard you can get tickets the day of the show if you're lucky), but if you have a chance either here in Chicago or in New York, GO SEE THIS SHOW!

Go see it if you're a Monty Python fan. Go see it if you're NOT a Monty Python fan. Go see it if you like Broadway musicals, and go see it if you don't. This is how good it is: I'd go again tomorrow if I could.

This is nothing less than a rollicking good time, both true to the original film and stuffed with amazing new material that is faithful and true to the spirit of what Monty Python was and is -- silly comedy, political satire, parody of art forms, and intellectual humor, and we got all of this and more in the show. There was topical humor, local references, and updates of some of the original material, all of which I found to be in the spirit of Python, and in addition, the play riffs on a number of Broadway shows, also very recognizably.

If you are as familiar with "Holy Grail" as I am, you'll scratch your head wondering how they could make a stage play out of it, but they do. There are many scenes where the dialogue is 100% faithful to the original, others where it was successfully adapted, and then... well...

Then there are the songs. Of course, there's the "Camelot Song" from the movie, where the "Round Table" turns out to be a table of a totally different sort.

But there are many, many songs created just for this show, and the actress who nearly steals the whole show is Broadway and opera veteran Sara Ramirez, who plays The Lady of the Lake (yes, she's actually in the play, unlike the low-budget movie, where she was spoken of but unseen. Speaking of budgets, Howard remarked to me that a single day's gross receipts for each Chicago show is probably equal to the entire budget for the film). There are also "Laker Girls" along with the Lady. Ramirez has several parts and songs, and even a song complaining that she hasn't had enough songs.

They also did a nice job turning two characters into one -- "Dennis", the guy collecting filth who does a turn on King Arthur repressing peasants, and instead of that scene just fizzling out, he winds up becoming Sir Galahad. No, I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that, neither am I by saying that Python fans will not be disappointed by seeing how the play handles the cow scene at the French castle. And for fans of other Python material, songs such as "Fisch Schlapping Song" and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" appear in the play, along with a brief cameo by "Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Play".

Several big-name film veterans are in this show. David Hyde Pierce, probably best known for "Frasier", plays Sir Robin (and others); Hank Azaria, a veteran of many films including "The Birdcage", is Sir Launcelot (and others), and in an inspired bit of casting, British actor Tim Curry, who first came to prominence among American college students like me in the mid-1970's for his role in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", is King Arthur.

They're all terrific -- even Curry, who at nearly 59 years old didn't take part in many of the dancing scenes.

Yes, I said dancing scenes.

And there's a song called "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" that had the entire audience howling and will go over even bigger in New York, I am absolutely certain.

Eric Idle of the Pythons, who conceived this whole show and did it with the approval, but not the participation (except for a brief voice-over cameo by John Cleese), of the other Pythons, gets a big "Hooray" from me, as does his lyricist John DuPrez. I'm sure this show will have a long run on Broadway, and eventually return to Chicago and other major cities with a national touring company.

About half the group walked a couple of blocks north for dinner, but as we had some time, I stopped in at the little shop adjacent to the theater to buy some souvenirs, which oddly enough for a major theater production, were just expensive, not ridiculously overpriced.

My kids both asked to buy a "I'm Not Dead Yet" button. So, I asked the man behind the counter for two, and he said, "You can't have them!"

At first I laughed because I thought he was just being in character with the show. And then I recognized the seller -- it was Walter, the guy who I buy scorecards from at Wrigley Field.

It was a wonderful afternoon of theater, and even though there's a bit of profanity and some adult humor and some women with HUGE tracts of land... this show is safe for children, too.

AYRating: One, two, five....

**** (oh, it's worth MUCH more than three!)