Closer to Python: My Mike Nichols Day, Part II

As I'm currently in the process of converting a play with music into a musical play, I'm newly fascinated by musical theater, especially the newer forms cropping up today: Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, all of Ken Roht's work, the Ramayana 2K4, which I guess better start calling itself R2K5 so it doesn't sign its checks wrong next year. Normally I have to wait for these things to come to the hinterlands (a.k.a., Los Angeles) or haul my carcass to New York, not an altogether unpleasant proposition, but generally a pricey one. So imagine my delight in learning that Spamalot!, the new Eric Idle musical based on material from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was having its pre-Broadway run here in Chicago during my stay! For which I had already paid!

It's selling well, which is a good first sign. The Chicago run opened on Tuesday; I bought my ticket on Wednesday for Thursday, which was mostly sold out. Fortunately, the one good single ticket they had was really good: I was third row center at the Shubert, so I pretty much had Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria singing in my lap for 2 1/2 hours (including intermission, so you know, not really).

They were all wonderful, as was much of the show. The supporting cast is staggeringly good; I particularly enjoyed the drag stylings of the very Python-esque Steve Rosen (who has some sort of Crohn's connection I'm anxious to bond over) and all I can say about Sara Ramirez is "you heard it here first, folks", that combination of good, gorgeous and funny comes along slightly less often than Halley's comet.

It's not an unqualified hit...yet. I'm hoping my issues with the show can be fixed in the Chicago run so it plays a good, long time in New York (and the hinterlands). Right now, it's a little draggy in parts, (especially Act One), it feels a bit repetitive and, for as clever as it often is, it's not clever enough. Maybe I've been spoiled by local (i.e., hinterland) geniuses like Ken Roht and Robert Prior, but I'm used to an extraordinarily high level of inventiveness; compared to Peace Squad Goes 99 or R2K4, Spamalot! does a lot of coasting on old material and not enough in the way of chewy surprises inside.

It's not devoid of them; I won't spoil anyone's possible future enjoyment by giving away all the treats, but there are some hilarious little fillips in many of the show's numbers, the kind of unexpected stuff that has you poking the person next to you and saying "look there!" and them poking you back to "no, look there!", which is pretty damned great. And the show as a whole does a great job of sending up musical theater.

But so did Peace Squad, and on a much tighter budget with far less lead time. Hell, I think we did send-ups on musical genres that hadn't been invented yet.

I wanted to give Spamalot! my unqualified love and affection, but at the end of the day (or the show), I just didn't feel like leaping to my feet like everyone else.

Nor did I feel like stopping by to congratulate Mike Nichols, the director of the hullaballoo, who was sitting there unrecognized for most of intermission (god, I love Chicago) along with his gorgeous wife. And I'm a big Mike Nichols fan, overall; I just wasn't feeling the love enough to blow his cover. (After all, what was I gonna say: congratulations...I didn't love your movie, either?)

In no way is this a pan of the show; I have no problem telling people to get their butts in the seats for this one. I only hope that by the time it gets to Broadway, it's as good as it can it should be.

That is, as good as those shows in the hinterlands already are.

xxx c