The legends surrounding King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, Merlin and Camelot, have been adapted many times for film and TV. This includes films such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, and the far less kid-friendly Excalibur, as well as a recent MGM+ TV series The Winter King. But many people’s introduction to this legend may have come from a far sillier place. I’m talking, of course, about Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the years since the beloved and often quoted film came out in 1975, a musical show was adapted, and thus Monty Python’s Spamalot came into being.
Spamalot was first adapted for stage back in 2004. It arrived on Broadway in 2005, gaining popularity and acclaim, resulting in 14 Tony Award nominations. With a score from John Du Prez and Eric Idle, with the latter providing the lyrics and book, Spamalot has spawned a West End production and numerous Tours throughout America and the U.K.. However, it hasn’t been on Broadway for almost two decades, that is, until its 2023 revival.
That’s right, Spamalot has returned to NYC at the St. James Theatre, looking to bring laughter of epic proportions to a new generation of theatergoers. Should Monty Python’s Spamalot be on your list of Broadway must-sees?
[Warning: Spoilers from Monty Python’s Spamalot are below!]
King Arthur assembles his crew
Monty Python’s Spamalot opens with a Historian (Ethan Slater) who sets the stage for what to expect from the show, taking the audience back to medieval England. However, due to a misunderstanding, the actors begin the show with the “Fisch Schlapping Song”, showcasing the beauty and peacefulness of medieval Finland. Annoyed, the Historian returns to the stage and resets the scene to a dreary and dismal England. Here, among the chanting monks hitting themselves with books, we meet King Arthur (James Monroe Iglehart) and Patsy (Christopher Fitzgerald).
Arthur and Patsy are on a mission to find the Knights of the Round Table, who are destined to join him in Camelot and protect the realm. While they don’t find any knights at this first location, that doesn’t stop these two from setting off on their pretend horses, with Patsy making galloping noises with some coconuts, to another land.
Switching gears and scenes, the audience is introduced to Robin (Michael Urie) and Lancelot (Taran Killam). These two have big dreams that far exceed their current roles in life. Robin, who collects plague victims, wishes to sing and dance professionally. Lancelot, on the other hand, wishes to be a knight and fight in as many battles as possible. Together, they agree to become knights.
King Arthur is still looking for his knights of the Round Table when he discovers Galahad (Nik Walker), a peasant who doesn’t quite believe in Arthur’s power or claim to the throne. Wanting to prove himself, King Arthur calls upon The Lady of the Lake (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer) for some help.
Never one to be outshone, The Lady of the Lake helps King Arthur assemble his crew and celebrate the accomplishment, but is interrupted by the voice of God (Steve Martin). God tells Arthur there’s another mission he must accomplish, find the Holy Grail. Only then can he truly rule over England. Can Arthur and his knights locate the grail and set things right? Or are they destined to piss off God? You’ll have to check out Spamalot to know for sure!
The positives and negatives of Monty Python’s Spamalot
If you’ve ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then you know exactly what type of comedy to expect from Spamalot. A lot of the jokes in both the film and the musical feature elements of dark or low-bar humor, with a ton of commentary. Some jokes address the time in which the musical takes place, but many speak to our current society, such as a timely joke about George Santos. These typical jokes struck a chord with the audience, as it was something we could all relate to on a more personal level.
Regardless of which type of humor and if it’s self-referential or not, Spamalot is hilarious through and through. Part of that might be due to the original source material, both the film and the first Broadway run. And part of it is also from the topical changes, and ultimately the excellent cast that brings this version of Spamalot to life.
Seriously, there isn’t a weak person among the cast, which is shocking for such a demanding show. Spamalot requires strong comedic chops and singing abilities, as well as a good sense of physicality. I was shocked about how active the show is, with flips and dances so impressive that the crowd whooped with excitement multiple times. The entire cast not only met this bar but excelled way past it in every sense.
Among the talented cast, a few roles and actors stood out, the first being The Lady of the Lake, played by Leslie Rodriquez Kritzer. Kritzer is iconic as this larger-than-life character. The Lady of the Lake is a star in her own right and cannot stand having the limelight taken off her. She’s kind, the majority of the time, but callous and wicked when she isn’t adored by her fans. Kritzer made me laugh so hard that I cried multiple times. She made the show for me, and every scene with The Lady of the Lake was comedy gold.
Taran Killam is also fantastic in Spamalot, in every role he plays, which is quite a few. I’ve known of Killam since Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Suburbs and eventually SNL, so it was a highlight to see him on stage. Of all his roles, Lancelot was a stand-out, as I wasn’t expecting him to be an LGBTQ+ icon. That was a nice twist for me and one that added another layer of inclusivity to the show, which for me is always important. Killam is exceptional in the role and, sadly, his time on Spamalot is almost at an end. Whoever follows has big shoes to fill.
Going into a comedy musical, something I wasn’t expecting, which I may have liked a bit of warning about, is the jump scare that begins the show. I think the entire theater screamed in tandem, which took a moment or two to come down. This does distract just a smidge from Slater’s opening monologue, however, by the time the show reaches Finland, we’re back to the races.
It’s also worth noting that the comedy in Spamalot might not be for everyone. Like all comedy shows, the jokes and topics tend to be aimed at a target audience, which might not be for you or whomever you bring. My friend group from high school loved Monty Python, however my family didn’t. So obviously, this wouldn’t be a show I would take my parents or sister to. As well, this is definitely not a show for the entire family, as much of Spamalot is aimed at a more mature audience.
At times, Spamalot meanders through the plot, adding a whimsical nature to the epic tale, again something that might not appeal to everyone. I thought it worked well with the comedy and music presented, but I recognize that not all audience goers will feel the same way about the loose story that connects all the scenes.
Final thoughts on Monty Python’s Spamalot
Overall, I loved Spamalot, marking four out of four plays, shows, and musicals from this most recent trip to NYC, with Sweeney Todd’s review still to come. Spamalot has so much going for it, with the strong comedy and actors bringing it to life, however, it is specific in what audience it’s attracting. If you have an open evening and want to be transported back to medieval England for a ton of laughs, you should definitely check out this show on your next trip into the city.
Spamalot is currently playing on Broadway. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you have or plan on seeing this show in NYC.