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Spamalot: Girls, Gays, Jews, Oh My!

The antics of Monty Python have never been entertaining to the Dresser who does not groove on comedy that is chaotic, scatological, violent, and cheeky in that overly smart way that runs puns like a battering ram through the doorway of a listener’s mind. However, numerous friends and family members who have seen the successful Broadway musical Spamalot convinced the Dresser to have a look. So on December 12, 2007, she attend the national touring production at Washington, DC’s National Theatre starring Michael Siberry as King Arthur and Esther Stilwell as the Lady of the Lake and is shocked to say, she had a good time and ventures there is something in this show for everyone.

HOW CAN THIS BE?

Which side of this question should the Dresser address first? Bright side of the moon—what makes Spamalot different from other Python creations? Dark side of the moon—how could the Dresser dislike the smart, innovative, and groundbreaking comedy of the British collective known since October 5, 1969, when their first BBC TV show aired as Monty Python?

Having caught the Python spirit, the Dresser will moon logic and leap into the middle of this two-act, twenty-scene play running two hours and twenty-two minutes with one interval (hey! That’s British speak for intermission). Just in case, Dear Reader, you don’t know, Spamalot, written by Eric Idle (book, lyrics) and John Du Pres & Eric Idle (music), is based on King Arthur (and his Knights of the Round Table) chasing after the Holy Grail in order to achieve the utopia of Camelot.
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What the Dresser likes best about Spamalot, which has a lot in common with the 2001 acclaimed musical The Producers by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, is the scene where King Arthur gets the shrubbery needed to appease the huge Knight of Ni who is making passage through the “very expensive forest” impossible for King A. A is now alone with his sidekick Patsy, after he and all the Round Table knights were run off by a chorus line of abusive Frenchmen and can caners at the end of Act I. How A gets his shrubbery is that Sir Galahad’s mom (a fiercesome, stout woman with pendulous sagging breasts) strolls into the forest dragging her wagon (with shrubbery) like Bertol Brecht’s Mother Courage.

Oh, has the Dresser mentioned that for the most part in all things Monty Python that women are mostly sex objects and men who don’t meet a certain school boy standard are fairies—as in, feminine creatures with wings, well, not exactly fairies but fags, uh, you know men who prefer men or boys? This is precisely why the Dresser was delighted to see Galahad’s mum solve the King’s problem. Hold on, but wasn’t it the Lady of Lake who dispatched Arthur on his quest?
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Yes, the scantily clad Lady of Lake and her cheerleading troupe of Laker Girls. Lady of Lake is a mover and shaker, but in the end all she really wants, despite her complaining in the song “The Diva’s Complaint,” is to marry the king.

WHO’S YOUR JEW?

Besides there being something to please everyone in this musical, the Dresser is certain there is also something to offend or confuse everyone in Spamalot. Take for example, the Knight of Ni’s second demand of Arthur that he produce a successful Broadway musical. (If this sounds like The Producers, go with this impulse.) This demand leads to the revelation by the fairy-est Round Table knight Sir Robin that you have to have a Jew involved in order to make it on Broadway.
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(Does this sound something like a lead into Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden, the fictional musical within The Producers? Maybe.) The long and short of Arthur’s next quest—to find a Jew—is that Patsy, his sensible Sancho Panza to Arthur’s kooky Don Quixote, admits that he, Patsy, is a Jew, but only after he blurts that It wasn’t so easy to say this to a “heavily armed Christian.”
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Here the Dresser drops back to mull over the difference between Avenue Q’s ballad “Everyone’s a Little Racist” versus Spamalot’s quest for a Jew. Somehow the truth of Q’s hot button topic about bigotry seems more benign and less confusing than what Spamalot is offering as comedic moment. As anti-Semitism rises again in our time, humor at the expense of Jews seems more risky. Should the Dresser who is Jewish laugh at Patsy’s answer about not stepping forward to say he was a Jew? Well she did laugh and now has mixed feelings about her reaction. Eric Idle is not Jewish, but Avenue Q, to support a World AIDS Day benefit, did a spoof on itself entitled Avenue Jew that purported, "everyone's a little bit Jewish." And no, the Dresser doesn’t know if Jeff Whitty (book writer of Avenue Q) who in 2006 lashed out at Jay Leno for making gays the butt of his jokes, is Jewish. What Spamalot is very good at is getting to what’s primitive in each viewer. For that, the Dresser has to admire painfully what the collaborators have created. Comedy is much harder than drama to do successfully. Putting aside the fact that Spamalot’s Camelot looks like the town of Las Vegas,
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she now understands why the baser Spamalot successfully replaced the softer Avenue Q at the Wynn Hotel. In Vegas, audiences prefer what is excessively wrought.

Bigotry, sexism, and homophobia now completely in the open, the Dresser enjoyed the dance numbers of the barely clad Laker girls,
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the prioresses with dangling Stars of David, and the calypso be-ruffled boys who dance at Lancelot’s coming out. In case none of this excites, there is lightning, active video, a man pulled out of the audience to join the players on stage, a sword fight that continues even after the loser has been separated from his arms, a killer rabbit, a Trojan rabbit, and a ton a confetti rained down on the audience. The cast is full of energy and talent. The music works. And the pacing is slower than the original Monty Python works such that the listener doesn't get hit in the ear with one sloppy but clever pie one after the other. How many times can an audience react with "Ooh, that smarts, you wicked Python" before getting burned out on the whole bloody assault? The Dresser says this would be fun to see on New Year’s Eve. Just go at your own risk of losing control of your better instincts.

Through the lens of a film star, Ron Mohring’s poem "Bela Lugosi" addresses one aspect of the otherness that Spamalot concerns itself with.


BELA LUGOSI

Would sift through my window screen,
frizzing violet smoke

that poured into the shape of a man.
Like candle wax on water,

alive as he could be.
I was not like other boys. He knew.

My magic was to leave
no portion of my body bare,

tuck the sheet tight around
my neck. He wouldn’t

just bite through; it was the flesh exposed
that provoked his thirst. I’d feel him

at my bedside, open my eyes and stare back
into his, glassy black. Burning to belong,

fearing he’d discard me after.

by Ron Mohring
from Survivable World

Copyright © 2007 Ron Mohring

All photos by Joan Marcus

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Comments (5)

SPAMALOT is my favorite theater of the year! and this article brings it back in all its outrageous hilarity. Reading this is like living twice. APPLAUSE FOR THE WRITER!!

Max Kern:

Loved reading this article. I'm going to see it with my Australian family who arrive on Mon. I look forward to reading more Dresser articles.

Diana Tokaji:

Loved your Spamalot review, gravitated to it because we're taking my youngest (a Monty Python nut) to see it on Tuesday. Your review was wonderful copy to read and food for thought. We're pretty much Jewish so your mixed feelings were of interest and just plain interesting, as was the rest of the spunky, lively review.

john matthias:

I saw SPAMALOT in New York last week APRIL 08
and enjoyed it (mostly) --lots of great silliness . Thanks for your review.

I was pre-warned about the "JEWS" song - but nevertheless still found it shocking and unsettling.

lots of people were laughing - partly at the "Shock" value I suspect -but in a darkened theatre who was not laughing, offended at the stereo-types shown? Is discriminatory and hurtful language acceptable if it is funny - but not if it isn't?

I was also offended by the blasphemous expletives - quite unnecessary and excessive when commenting about a stuffed puppit rabbit.

Just a single opinion I know - thanks for letting me share it.

Thanks for the review. I saw the Jan. 14, 2009 version in Peoria, IL.

Note that they included a reference to Bush (the French knight, when taunting Aurthur, said "and we'll throw a shoe at your President") and they included a reference to disgraced Illinois Governor Blagojevich.

Both lines were popular here. :)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 14, 2007 4:31 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Otello & the Lighthouse.

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