10. Can Christian Slater sing?
Let’s get down to it. That’s clearly the most pressing question, and the answer, delightfully, is yes. Slater actually began his career on Broadway, as the lisping kid Winthrop Paroo in the 1980 revival of The Music Man opposite Dick Van Dyke, before finding big screen success in 80’s classics like “Heathers.” As Sir Galahad he holds his own harmonizing with the Lady of the Lake, a stunning Merle Dandridge, in “The Song That Goes Like This.” (To be fair, though, Dandridge--who played this role on Broadway, as well as the title role in Aida and Joanne in Rent--makes absolutely everyone around her better).
9. Wait...and be funny?
Recall, Sir Galahad, prior to knighthood, is the politically savvy peasant Dennis, with the most convoluted monologue of the whole show. And Slater killed it. His British accent was on point, his argument was--dare I say--lucid, and he spoke for the 99 percent with a rousing gusto that got the crowd cheering. As the big wild card of the evening, he seemed to surprise everyone with how charmingly game he was for the silliness around every bend. He has been playing an anarchist most of his career (including his current turn on the TV series “Mr. Robot”) and with this role, he reminded everyone in the crowd that he’s a master of the ironic pause--a valuable skill in the Python universe.
8. How were those British accents?
Honestly...a tad flawed. Warwick Davis and Eric Idle, the resident Brits of the group, ran circles around the others, but Slater pulled off two rather impressive class-specific accents and many members of the cast, like Tom Deckman and Rick Holmes, who previous appeared in Spamalot on Broadway, were comfortable in the milieu. Holmes’ Lancelot, indeed, was a crowd favorite; he had them hooting and hollering during his big second act coming-out disco number. Although that may have been for the sparkly codpiece.
7. So there were costumes and choreography?
Yes! This one-weekend-only extravaganza is fully staged --though, to be fair, chorus girls and boys carry the weight of the dance numbers (adapted, according to the press release, from Casey Nicholaw’s original by Billy Sprague Jr. and Scott Taylor) and the weight of the sequins. Our beloved knights kickline and prance about, though, can-caning their hearts out. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the film upon which the musical is based, trades on low production value laughs--and true to form, this Hollywood Bowl production relishes its short-cuts. The terrifyingly tall Scot Tim the Enchanter, he who warns of the killer rabbit, is clearly just standing on a ladder, and to show the change of season on the knights’ quest we get pathetically tiny bursts of confetti representing the leaves of fall, the snow of winter, etc. The performers, too, embrace this community theater aesthetic: the audience surely caught Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a seasoned Broadway vet (1998’s On the Town, The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee) lightly pulling Christian Slater to his marks multiple times as they both bumbled their way through. Although it may have been out of sheer necessity (the primary performers reportedly only got ten days of rehearsal), it smacked of the spirit of the show and seemed to endear the cast to the 18,000 onlookers.
6. How many onlookers?
Yes, the Hollywood Bowl is quite a venue for broad comedy. As Craig Robinson (as King Arthur), references appropriately in the second act, that’s “18,000 drunks.” Every laugh was magnified by thousands, and every opportunity to sing along en masse was seized. Warwick Davis, reprising his role of Patsy from the West End production of Spamalot, leads “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” brilliantly, and King Arthur’s “I’m All Alone” song (denying Patsy’s existence), drew a collective “awwww” from the audience at large. But the most satisfying was the Knights Who Say Ni: throughout their scenes echoes of “niii!” ricocheted throughout the massive amphitheater. 5. Did the crowd get other shout-outs (besides reference to their inebriation)?
Los Angeles-specific jokes abounded. The audience went wild when the Knights Who Say Ni requested not just any shrubbery, but ideally, “something drought-tolerant.” When God (in this case, a pre-recorded Michael Palin) visits King Arthur to inform him of the knights’ mission to find the Holy Grail, Arthur’s equivalent to Mount Sinai is actually the Hollywood Hills complete with the iconic sign (which surely gives new meaning to “Find Your Grail” for the aspiring movie stars in the crowd). The Lady of the Lake’s entourage--called, even in the original, her Laker Girls--got one of the biggest laughs of the night. The gentleman sitting behind me chortled to his neighbor “that’s a local reference!”
4. Were there other updated references?
And how! The swallow-debating guard first responds to King Arthur’s announcement of his arrival with “Oh yeah? Well, I’m Lady Gaga.” Lancelot does a take after reading Prince Herbert’s damsel in distress-esque missive, noting to the titters of the crowd, “hashtag Daddy Trouble.” And by the end of the evening, we’ve got up-to-the-moment nods to Taylor Swift, “Uptown Funk,” Caitlyn Jenner, and even, mashup of mashups, “Tom Brady shot a lion?”
3. Is it as politically incorrect as ever?
Yes, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” still speaks of the semitic requirements of the genre (complete with Ferguson ad libbing “Papa, can you hear me?”) and Prince Herbert’s gruff father still sends his son to his (apparent) death rather than embrace his effeminacy. There is something deliciously subversive, however, in the line about tokenism, “I don’t know a single Jewish person,” coming from our first black King Arthur.
2. Does Jesse Tyler Ferguson, fitted with a flowing wig of feathered white locks, look like the spitting image of Sir Richard Branson?
I thought you’d never ask. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
1. So the show endures?
The biggest laughs of the night, hands down, came thanks to the sheer cleverness of the original book, from the swallow debate at the top, to the knights’ confusion over the concept of a holy grail as a metaphor, to the world’s worst French accents delivering their famous barrage of insults (which, when all is said and done, amounts to one big elaborate fart joke). The persistent “I’m not dead yet” gag throughout the evening inspired fits of giggles every blessed time, and when a nun and a monk perform a gravity-defying dance duet a propos of nothing, we’re reminded of the inherent irreverence of the Monty Python troupe. That Eric Idle presides over the whole thing lends the proceedings added magic. The show is pure camp, and the Hollywood Bowl production leans into it with all its might, but after all, isn’t camp what summer is all about?
Monty Python’s Spamalot has book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle. Lovingly ripped off from the motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Spamalot had its Broadway debut in 2005, directed by Mike Nichols.
The Hollywood Bowl production stars Kevin Chamberlin as Sir Bedevere, Merle Dandridge as the Lady of the Lake, Warwick Davis as Patsy, Tom Deckman as Not Dead Fred, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Sir Robin, Rick Holmes as Sir Lancelot, Eric Idle as the Historian, Craig Robinson as King Arthur, and Christian Slater as Sir Galahad. The production is directed by BT McNicholl and conducted by Todd Ellison. Choreography is adapted and re-staged by Billy Sprague Jr. and Scott Taylor, from the original choreography by Casey Nicholaw.
Single tickets for the 2015 Hollywood Bowl season may be purchased online at HollywoodBowl.com, Ticketmaster.com or via phone at (323) 850.2000 or (800)745.3000 and at the box office. The box office hours are Tuesday – Sunday, noon-6 PM.