You simply can't grow up a geek and not have been exposed to Monty Python in some form or another. It's also more than likely that you have sat through endless viewings of their classic movie, The Holy Grail, and even have recited lines from the film back and forth with your friends.
So who would have thought that this cinema masterpiece of high absurdity from 1975 would make its way to Broadway? Hell, who would have thought that people would travel hundreds of miles just to see a musical adaptation of the movie that they have chiseled into their subconscious? Well, I did for one.
A common theme of my entries, you might notice, will often deal with the idea that here I am, an adult, doing all of the things I wanted to do as a child – be irresponsible, buy cool toys, indulge my tastes for geekery (it's a word… or soon will be) and generally make a mess of things. So it's only fitting that the group of people I hung out with in high-school now pry ourselves away from the VCR and engage ourselves in a bit of theater – geek style.
Myself, and my friends (Jarrod, Chris, Keith and Michelle) crammed ourselves into a car on a grey New Years Day this past Saturday – forsaking the lure of heavy drinking the night before – and made the three hour trip up to Chicago to catch Spamalot; the musical adaptation of Monty Python's Holy Grail. This was no soapbox theater, mind you. The show is making its pre-Broadway run at Chicago's Shubert Theater before jetting off to New York.
Featured in the cast are none other than Tim Curry (Rocky Horror, Clue, Legend, everything else), Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Godzilla, Dodgeball), and David Hyde Pierce (Fraiser, The Fisher King, Hellboy). The supporting cast is equally as talented, with one hell of a diva by the name of Sara Ramirez, who has done some time on Law & Order but really shines with a voice that can really bring the house down.
We arrived in Chicago pretty damn early. We had forgotten about the time difference. At least we didn't forget the tickets! With a stroll down State Street to look at the Marshall Fields window displays and a stop into a nearby Borders to warm up, we had yet to find something other than fast food or Starbucks to fill our bellies. It's a tradition with us – to start off the new year with a freakin' good meal. Unfortunately, no one else seems to think much of this tradition because usually, most restaurants are closed on New Years Day! Bono can kiss my ass – things do too change on New Years Day!
We eventually happened upon an Italian joint just two doors down from a store called Grahms Comics on East Madison. I know this because I worked at Grahms back when it was called Comic Relief. It was nice to see that it was still there, but the changes over the years had made it more cold and lifeless. Enh. Oh well.
Pizano's! That's the name of the Italian joint. It's at 61 East Madison and used to be a Foot Locker. Inside its revolving door was a warm, cheerful pub with plenty of Sinatra, black and white photos on the walls and a festive feel about the dining room. We were quickly seated and waited on by a gentleman who called himself "The Chach" – as in Jonni Loves Chachi. If you don't get the reference, don't ask.
The Chach made us feel pretty good, talking with us, telling us how Pizano's originated the "Chicago style pizza" when the little old lady back in the kitchen brought her recipe over from the old country. If you've ever been to a pizza joint in Chicago, just about every one of them has a similar story. But whatever – it was entertaining and it might be true. Chach knew plenty about the food on the menu and we "couldn't go wrong" with whatever we chose.
Overall the meal was great. We had plenty of time to kill, so we didn't mind the relaxed service and we were even able to meet up with old friends, Jay and Susan, who lived in Uptown. Chach was always there with whatever we needed and even comped us a desert, seemingly for the hell of it. So Pizano's gets my recommendation.
The walk to the Shubert was short and brisk. Thanks to some overhead construction scaffolding, we were able to dodge the growing rain. If you think the wind off the lake in Chicago is cold – try a stray drop down the neck of your jacket! Even at 7 PM, with a curtain time of 8 PM, a mass of people waited outside the theater. It was a slow grind getting through the doors and our tickets taken. We passed the souvenir table though – selling t-shirts, stuffed killer rabbits and coconut halves. Yes, some people bought the coconut halves.
You really can't prepare yourself for a musical stage production like this. Instead of sitting back and wondering, "How are they going to handle X scene" or "Will Y song from Z movie be in the play", you really just need to sit back and let it happen. The musical adaptation from film to stage is Eric Idle's doing, so you're guaranteed the same humor, pacing and insanity that the old Python can deliver.
Tim Curry played a somewhat stiff, but if not believable fop of a king as King Arthur. His singing voice is as memorable as it was in Rocky Horror, which is really my only basis for comparison. Hank Azaria does triple time in various roles, as does David Hyde Pierce, with Hank taking on Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, The Black Knight and The Knight Who Says Ni. Pierce runs away as The Brave Sir Robin, as well as handling some of the smaller roles – including Brother Maynard as he offers up the Holy Hand Grenade.
If you think you're going to just get a rehash of the movie, think again. Spamalot has plenty of new material and even a few modern cultural references coyly slipped into the songs. The show goes so far as to spoof itself and the musical genre, taking a Tenacious D approach and describing the stereotypical ballads as they're being sung – songs about themselves if you will – in the aptly titled "There's Always A Song Like This". Eric Idle and John Du Prez really put their heads together on this one.
In the end, the show was well worth the ticket price, drive to Chicago and the wait in the rain. It was great to see the big name stars on stage and interacting with the audience – even giving way to improv when things don't go quite right and trick arrows do not pop out of actors chests on cue. The only down side of the show was that it was sold out. Packed solid. To the brim. The fifteen-minute intermission was a mad shuffle to the line to get into the line for the restroom. After that, it was another line to get into a line to get back to your seats just before curtain.
Go see it if you can – the show runs through the end of Januray, so tickets might still be available for some shows. Otherwise, wait eagerly for the DVD. I know I will be.
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