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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March 2005, 11:03 GMT
Spamalot arrives on Broadway
By Tom Brook
BBC News, New York

Hank Azaria (l), David Hyde Pierce and Tim Curry (r) in Spamalot
The cast take a bow on opening night of the production
Spamalot - the new musical inspired by the cult film Monty Python and the Holy Grail - has made a triumphant arrival on Broadway.

Five members of the Monty Python team were brought together in New York for a rare reunion on opening night to promote the show.

Their presence did the trick - it brought out crowds of onlookers and, more importantly, eager members of the press waiting to lap up the show.

But Spamalot doesn't really need much help. The word-of-mouth since the musical previewed in Chicago several weeks ago has been strong.

Most importantly the New York Times' influential theatre critic, Ben Brantley, whose reviews can make or break a show, wrote approvingly of it. He did have some reservations, but declared Spamalot "a resplendently silly new musical".

Eric Idle at the opening of Spamalot on Broadway
It's just an amazing show
Eric Idle

This $11m production - high by Broadway standards - is largely the work of Python member Eric Idle, 62, who wrote the lyrics and collaborated on the music.

On opening night on Thursday, Idle was ecstatic as he continued to sell the show to reporters: "We got the best people, the best choreographer, the best sets, the best director, the best costumes, it's just an amazing show.

"You just go 'wow', who would ever have imagined it would be this complete!"

Faithful adaptation

The new musical is faithful to the 1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail film in certain key respects. Python fans will be pleased to know that the 'killer-rabbit' and the French Taunter scenes remain.

But Spamalot has a plot that broadens out to spoof Broadway, and various musicals, including those of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Poking fun at songs from musicals won applause from fellow Python John Cleese: "I loved the parodies of the songs, the delight in seeing some of those songs skewered definitively - it was liberating."

Except for Tim Curry, who portrays King Arthur, all the leading players are American.

(l-r) Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese
The five surviving Monty Python stars joined the Broadway opening

David Hyde Pierce, best known for his work on TV series Frasier, appears on stage as Sir Robin - and in other roles. Simpsons' star Hank Azaria portrays Sir Lancelot, as well as the French Taunter and the Black Knight.

Even the director is American. The well-respected Mike Nichols has worked both on stage and in cinema, most recently bringing Closer to the big screen.

Nichols maintains he didn't have any qualms working on a musical inspired by such a revered British comedy.

Clearly a Python fan, Nichols says of the musical, "it takes care of itself so beautifully. It's so alive, it's so weird in the highest sense, and so were the songs."

Idiosyncratic humour

Spamalot is the latest spin-off of the BBC's Monty Python Flying Circus series, first broadcast in 1969. Its brand of surreal idiosyncratic humour had a huge cult following, but it left some people cold.

The creators of Spamalot knew they had to reach beyond Python fans to make the stage play work.

"Humour is humour, it has to be funny," says Idle, explaining his priorities in fashioning the musical.

"I had to have something that hopefully will appeal to the fans, and yet still appeal to people who just want to go to the theatre."

Director Mike Nichols (l), Michael Palin, Tim Curry and John Cleese
The Pythons joined the cast to sing ' Always Look on the Bright Side... '

On opening night, Spamalot did win over non-Python audiences - as New York theatergoer Genevieve Oparski puts it, "it's simple humour, there's nothing like simple, funny stuff. It can't not appeal to anyone".

Word on the musical hasn't been totally euphoric however. Some commentators have indicated that a few of the lyrics poking fun at the prevalence of Jews in Broadway theatre could cause offence.

But if there is any outrage it seems pretty muted.

Pivotal role

Spamalot is an ensemble piece with a strong cast, but Tim Curry, who plays the pivotal role of King Arthur, has captured a lot of the limelight. He confirms that it's good to be a King on Broadway.

"He drives the show, "says Curry of his role, "that's always fun to do if it's a good car, and it is, it's a Porsche."

John Cleese sees Spamalot as an unexpected project to have emerged in America in 2005: "I'm a bit surprised this kind of thing can happen in George Bush's America - you know, people being very naughty, very funny and with a kind of gentle joy."

Opening night definitely finished on a high note - the rare sight of the Python team together on stage provided an unforgettable moment of history for fans - and a great photo opportunity.

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