(long may monty python wave)

Python Comes to Broadway with Musical 'Spamalot'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After years of lavish spectacles reigning on Broadway, a musical based on a film made up of comedy sketches about medieval Europe might seem like a hard sell. But "Spamalot" is proving naysayers wrong.

Turning the 1974 classic comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" into "Spamalot" took Python member Eric Idle three years of work. And it looks like that hard work is paying off, with the show proving a critical darling in its pre-Broadway run and a box-office smash before it even opens.

The current Broadway season has seen several new musicals disappoint, including "Good Vibrations" and "Brooklyn." Both are hovering near 60 percent capacity at their theaters.

But "Spamalot," which is scheduled to open on the Great White Way on Thursday, could be the savior. The show has been filling more than 90 percent of the seats at the Shubert Theater in previews and taking a weekly gross of more than $750,000, rivaling such smash hits as "The Lion King," "Wicked" and "Mamma Mia!" And advance ticket sales have been spectacular, approaching $18 million.

Along with the Python draw, the musical features a top-notch cast of stellar comedians led by Tim Curry, best known for his cult role in garters and black leather in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," as King Arthur.

Emmy winners Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons") and David Hyde-Pierce, coming off his 11-year run as Dr. Niles Crane on the NBC sitcom "Frasier," take on multiple roles in the show. Sara Ramirez plays The Lady of the Lake.


"Spamalot" follows the travails of King Arthur as he gathers knights to join him on his quest for the Holy Grail. Suddenly the men realize that where they belong is on Broadway. Hilarity reigns as spoofs of past stage triumphs such as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Les Miserables," "The Boy From Oz" and "Fiddler on the Roof" are thrown at the audience.

"Spamalot" opened in Chicago in January and the critics were enthusiastic. The Daily Herald called it "very, very silly and entertaining," while The Chicago Sun-Times lauded its "very funny" script, "delicious lyrics" and "impeccably cast actors" under the direction of Oscar winner Mike Nichols, who has won six Tonys for his stage work.

Python work "is very 'sketchy' writing" which leads into songs quite naturally, Idle told Reuters.

"It was a perfect property. At any point in the movie you could put in a song," he said. The script lends itself to song, according to Idle, with lines like, "Run away," or, "I'm not dead yet," screaming out to be musical cues.

Before Idle could embark on making a musical of the tale of King Arthur and his knights, he had to get permission from the other four surviving members of the comedy troupe. Graham Chapman died in 1989.

"I did an adaptation of the book," Idle said. "When John Du Prez (who co-wrote the music and lyrics) and I recorded about 10 or 12 songs, we sent them a CD. That's what got them. They laughed very much. ... They saw that it was possible. It gave them enough to see that it could work. They said, 'Off you go. You can do this with our blessing.'"


"Spamalot" is the latest in a rash of films being adapted for the Broadway stage. One of the biggest hits in the genre has been Mel Brooks' adaptation of his comedy masterpiece "The Producers." The success of this venture made it easier for "Spamalot" to get financing, Idle said.

"Actually I went to Brooks in the late 1980s and asked him if we could do 'The Producers.' He could play Bialystock and I could play Bloom -- I was young enough in those days," he chuckled. "It was something I thought would make a good musical."

According to Idle, "There are potentials in some things to become musicals. It's spotting them and getting it right that's half the battle. And finding things that people want to see."

When Idle sat down to work on "Spamalot," he decided to base the show on the portion of the film dealing with the rounding up of the knights.

He said the film "is not very cinematic. There are moments in it. But all the comedy is very simple writing, so it easily transfers."

Many of the gags from "Holy Grail" pop up in "Spamalot" -- the banging of the coconuts for horses' hooves, the strolling minstrels and the French taunter, to name a few. But fans will also see onstage some bits that might have seemed impossible to recreate. The creators of "Spamalot" have come up with inventive ways to include such classic bits as the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit too.



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