Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Tuesday, 21 February 2006

Spamalot launch is all a bit silly

By Chris Leggett
BBC News website entertainment reporter

Idle with dancing girls
Idle flew in from his California home to launch the musical
Theatrical launches can be dull affairs but those attending the London unveiling of the Monty Python musical Spamalot got, well, something completely different.

Rather than a formal question and answer session, Python star Eric Idle, who created the musical, treated his audience to dancing girls, sketches and songs.

As the show features flatulent Frenchmen, a legless knight and killer rabbits, it was no surprise that Idle went for the unconventional.

Taking to the stage at the West End's Palace Theatre, he introduced the plans for the musical with a mixture of stand-up comedy and excerpts from the show.

In keeping with Python's black humour, every attempt at promotion ended with deliberate anti-climax.

Amid the joking, Idle repeatedly stressed the musical's American success.

"With 83% of all musicals failing on Broadway, Spamalot is a hit," he said.

Ribbed colleagues

"It made its money back in seven months, which is a record.

"We are now bringing it to London to see if you will fall for the same thing."

The omens were on his side. Outside, the queue for tickets for October's official opening was already snaking around the theatre.

The cast of Spamalot
The musical sends up the Arthurian legends

Idle joked that he had opened the musical on Broadway because the London critics had likened his previous projects, a play and a film, to piles of excrement.

His Python colleagues, who get a share of the royalties having created the original film, were not spared a few barbed comments.

"I would like to thank them all for their kindness and generosity in not returning the cheques," he joked.

Idle described himself as the "sixth nicest" and "cheapest" member of the team.

"Terry Jones is very nice to young Swedish women," Idle joked, referring to his ex-colleague's recent decision to leave his wife for a younger woman.

"Graham Chapman was a very nice man and even John Cleese is lot nicer than he used to be."

Video sketch

Idle then started to make a joke about the Palace Theatre's owner Andrew Lloyd Webber, "our new landlord".

Director Mike Nichols (l), Michael Palin, Tim Curry and John Cleese
The surviving Pythons have given their support to Spamalot

Halfway in, the stage lights were switched off in an apparent bid to censor him, to much laughter.

Even the show's acclaimed director Mike Nichols, who won a Tony for his work, got some ribbing.

"He shamelessly got his Tony by spreading the rumour he was dying," claimed Idle.

Nichols, an best director Oscar winner for The Graduate, was then seen on video pretending to be a doddering senile idiot in a wheelchair, while a busty nurse attended to his needs.

Early queues

The Monty Python team
Idle, far right, with his Monty Python colleagues in the 1970s
Even the show's producer got in on the act, coming on stage to show how he signed the cheques for the show - by using Idle's back as his desk.

"I never wanted to do this for a living," sniffed Idle. "I wanted to be a lumberjack."

He then picked up a guitar to lead the audience in the finale, a run-through of the Python song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

In keeping with the show's spam motif, the whole performance was rather hammy but few pundits expect anything but another box office success.

video and audio news
Listen to Eric Idle talk about his play Spamalot

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