By Harry Forbes
On the face of it, one might think it rather too soon for a return of Eric Idle and John Du Pre’s musical version of the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” But then you remember that the original Tony Award-winning Best Musical production was indeed nearly 20 years ago. That fondly-recalled 2005 premiere production with Tim Curry, Hank Araiza, David Hyde Pierce, and Christian Borle, directed by Mike Nichols no less, might have seemed hard to match.
But I’m happy to report that the current mounting, sharply directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, lives up to all the felicities of the original. The script seems to be only mildly tweaked with a few contemporary references, and I count that as a good thing. Even though times have changed, and not all the gags seem as fresh as before, they generally hold up just fine.
The basic narrative, as you may recall, involves King Arthur (versatile James Monroe Iglehart) and his trusty companion Patsy (Christopher Fitzgerald), and knights Sir Robin (Michael Urie), Sir Lancelot (Taran Killam), Sir Dennis Galahad (Nik Walker) on a comical quest to find the Holy Grail. But the show develops into a multi-faceted spoof of Broadway musicals and all manner of popular entertainment.
This fine 2023 cast gets into the Monty Python spirit with nearly the same authenticity as the original crew who were perhaps more organically steeped in the Python ethos. And those showstopping songs still delight and tickle the funny bone. The outrageous “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”-- as the lyric goes “if you haven’t any Jews” -- is a stitch in Urie’s expertly comedic hands, and Rhodes’ choreography with its homage to “Fiddler on the Roof” -- is highly inventive. The infectious music hall earworm “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” charmingly delivered by the delightful Fitzgerald, which opens the second act, is embraced by the audience like an old friend. Fitzgerald has some other pearly moments as he dejectedly hears King Arthur bemoans “I’m All Alone,” with nary a nod to steadfast Patsy.
Adding significantly to the fun is Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer as the Lady of the Lake who helps King Arthur on his quest. Her character is comically fashioned as an over-the-top Vegas lounge singer with every vocal cliche in the book. Sara Ramirez was great in 2005, but Kritzer makes the part her own.
Her first act duet with Walker, “The Song That Goes Like This” wherein they wring every ounce of humor out of the overwrought Broadway ballad prototype, and her second act “Diva’s Lament,” wherein she bemoans her suddenly diminished role, stops the show again. Ethan Slater, so delightful in “Spongebob Squarepants” several seasons back, again proves his comic chops in an impressive variety of roles including the narrating Historian, Not Dead Fred, and the lovelorn Prince Herbert. HIs scenes with Killam’s excellent Lancelot, who suddenly discovers his queerness, are another highlight.
Production values are all first rate, including Paul Tate DePoo III’s sets and projections, Jen Caprio’s costumes, Cory Pattak’s lighting, Kai Harada and Haley Parcher’s sound, and Tom Watson’s hair and wigs. Music Director John Bell conducts
The audience at my performance had a rollicking good time, and if you see it, I think you’ll happily follow the show’s exhortation to “Find Your Grail.”
(St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street; SpamalotTheMusical.com; phone)
Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman: (L to R) Michael Urie, Nik Walker, James Monroe Iglehart, Christopher Fitzgerald, Jimmy Smagula, Taran Killam