MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT * Book and lyrics by Eric Idle * Music by John Du Prez and Eric Idle * Directed by Mike Nichols * Starring David Hyde Pierce, Tim Curry, and Hank Azaria * Shubert Theatre, New York City.

Spamalot is a frothy frappe of pop-cultural references that is tastier but no more substantial than the canned slab of processed pork from which it takes its punny title. Based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a “Fractured Fairy Tales” version of Sir Lancelot’s initiation into King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, it’s a godsend to Python cultists in the audience, who greet each comic routine with the kind of ecstatic outburst that rock fans emit at the first notes of a beloved hit song. 

As King Arthur, drolly underplayed by Tim Curry (who’s come a long way since Rocky Horror’s “Sweet Transvestite”), leads his merry band through encounters with the Knights Who Say Ni, the French Taunter (“I fart in your general direction!”), and a killer rabbit, the show digresses into parodying other musicals. David Hyde Pierce’s Sir Robin, whose long tresses make him a dead ringer for Charlotte Rampling, insists that “You Can’t Succeed On Broadway (If You Haven’t Any Jews),” which cues a wacky sidetrip to Fiddler on the Roof. Sara Ramirez’s Lady of the Lake is a dazzling compound of Liza, Patti LuPone, and every Whitney-wannabe who ever warbled her way onto American Idol. She and Christopher Sieber, who plays the hair- tossingly vain Sir Galahad, mock the formulaic pomposity of Andrew Lloyd-Webber with a faux-Phantom power ballad called “The Song That Goes Like This”: “I’ll sing it in your face/While we both embrace/ And then we change the key!” And when the damsel he rescues turns out to be Prince Herbert, Sir Lancelot (Hank Azaria) comes out in tutti-frutti colors as The Boy from Oz

Director Mike Nichols expertly creates a loosey-goosey comedy-club ambience, and the Playbill alone is a scream. But the incessant self-referentialism of Spamalot makes it both extremely contemporary (every musical from The Producers to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is doing it) and redundant. It’s as if the creators skipped the show and went right to the Forbidden Broadway take-off.

The Advocate, May 10, 2005