Broadway San Jose announces inaugural season

From the ashes of the American Musical Theatre of San Jose rises a whole new series bringing Broadway tours to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, and it’s called Broadway San Jose.

A Nederlander Presentation, part of the national Nederlander Organization, is the producing agency that will bring in the shows starting in September in association with Team San Jose.

Here’s the inaugural season lineup:

Spamalot, Sept. 15-20
Spring Awakening, Oct. 28-Nov. 1
Riverdance (in its farewell tour), Dec. 29-Jan. 3
Avenue Q, Jan. 12-17
Legally Blonde the Musical, March 16-21

Season subscription packages are available from $108-$429. Call 866-395-2929 or visit for information.

And from the Web site comes information for former AMTSJ subscribers who had tickets for two shows that were canceled: “Broadway San Jose will be offering former 2008-2009 AMTSJ Season Ticket Holders a substantial discount to become a new ‘Priority ‘season ticket holder for the 2009-2010 Season. Former 2008-2009 AMTSJ season ticket holders will have a window of opportunity to utilize your season ticket discount, as well as to purchase priority season ticket seat locations online before the general public.”

Read Karen D’Souza’s story about it in the San Jose Mercury News here.

Theater review: `Spamalot’

Opened May 27, 2009 at the Golden Gate Theatre

Spamalot 3

Jeff Dumas is loyal sidekick Patsy (backed up by the Lady of the Lake’s Laker Girls) in the Broadway touring production of Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. Photos by Joan Marcus

Amiable Python musical farts in our general direction

There’s nothing wrong with silliness. In fact, it’s quite a welcome thing right about now.

And who better to supply absurdity in abundance than the warped minds of the Monty Python clan?

It has taken a long time – way too long – for Monty Python’s Spamalot, the musical “lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” to arrive in San Francisco. The cow-hurling, rabbit-monstering, knight-slicing show made Broadway heave (with laughter) more than four years ago. But because the brilliant producers decided to open a sit-down Las Vegas production, the tour was banned from California.

To those producers I say: I wave my private parts at your aunties.

As most Vegas versions of Broadway shows do, Spamalot didn’t last, and now that the tour is free to roam the Golden State, it opened this week at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series. The delayed arrival created a frenzy of hilarity on opening night – an intrepid audience member came dressed as one of the Knights of Ni – and original Python member Eric Idle, who adapted the 1975 film into the stage show, and composer John Du Prez, even showed up for the curtain call. Director Mike Nichols apparently had better things to do.

Having seen the original production on Broadway in 2005 and the Vegas version a couple summers ago, I can tell you this Spamalot is royally entertaining, with some clear scene-stealers in the cast.

Spamalot 2

John O’Hurley (of “Seinfeld” fame) stars as King Arthur, and though he provides a solid center for this rambling quest, the show is routinely hijacked by supporting players.

Merle Dandridge (right) is the gorgeous, silken-voiced Lady of the Lake, the only real woman’s role in the show (aside from high-kicking chorus girls). Her numbers, including the Andrew Lloyd Webber spoof “The Song That Goes Like This” (with Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad), “Find Your Grail” and “The Diva’s Lament,” are all highlights and moments when the show becomes less of a wallow in Pythonalia and more of a real Broadway show.

Most of this hard-working cast plays multiple roles, but nobody does it as dexterously as Matthew Greer. His primary role is Sir Lancelot (“in tight pants a lot…he likes to dance a lot”), but he is outright hilarious as the chief French Taunter (“You don’t frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms, son of a silly person!”), the head Knight of Ni (“Fetch us a shrubbery!”) and as the enigmatic Tim the Enchanter. Greer fully embraces the farcical Python spirit and makes the most of his iconic roles.

Spamalot 1

Indeed, much of the pleasure for audience members seems to have nothing to do with the songs or the Broadway aspect of the show. It’s all about the Greatest Hits of the Grail – like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the dismembered Black Knight, the Knights of Ni, etc. Just seeing the character (expertly costumed by Tim Hatley, who also crafted the willfully cheesy sets) inspires a round of applause, like a singer launching into a favorite tune during a concert.

But you don’t have to be a Python enthusiast to enjoy the shallow pleasures of this high-quality Broadway fluff. Like Dandridge and Greer, the cast is full of delightful performers, including Christopher Sutton, who plays a stuffy British academic, Not Dead Fred, Sir Robin’s graphic minstrel and Prince Herbert, the golden-locked lad who just wants to sing his song. Another scene stealer is Jeff Dumas as Patsy, King Arthur’s faithful sidekick (and foley artist responsible for clapping coconut shells together whenever the king is astride his “horse”). Dumas gets the show’s best song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (which is lovingly ripped off from another Python film, The Life of Brian).

James Beaman as Sir Robin gets the show’s wackiest original number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” which also showcases Casey Nicholaw’s irreverent choreography – think drill team by way of Fosse by way of Vegas.

Du Prez’s eclectic score plays by the Broadway rules (gospel here, bombast there, spoof everywhere) and creates a thoroughly pleasant musical experience that, except for “Bright Side of Life” (music and lyrics by Idle), doesn’t linger much beyond the theater’s doors.

On opening night, a line during the gala wedding finale took on added weight in the wake of the California Supreme Court’s upholding of Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. Prince Herbert and Lancelot, about to married, gaze into each other’s eyes, and Lancelot says: “Just think, Herbert, in a thousand years time, this will still be controversial.” It’s a line that was in the original production five years ago that, alas, is still funny today.

Monty Python’s Spamalot continues through July 5 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call (415) 512-7770 or visit for information.

Here’s a peek at the tour:

`Spamalot’ video contest, lottery tickets, Chronicle article

Spamalot 1
The touring cast of Monty Python’s Spamalot. Photo by Joan Marcus

If you know about the Knights of the Round Table, who dance when’er they’re able, then you probably already know that the Monty Python-inspired musical Spamalot is making its long overdue debut in the Bay Area Friday, May 22, and continues through July 5 at the Golden Gate Theatre.

To promote the show, prospective audience members are invited to join the “Bright Side of Life” Video Contest. “Python fans or anyone with an urge to sing and dance, can create a video of their performance version of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ and upload the video for a chance to be featured in a TV commercial.”

Grand prize: The winner will have a portion of their video featured in a Spamalot commercial that will air during the Tony Awards on CBS 5 on Sunday June 7, along with 6 tickets to see Spamalot, a meet and greet with select members of the cast, a $200 gift certificate for dinner and Spamalot show merchandise. Three other semi-finalists will win two tickets to see Monty Python’s Spamalot.

The video should be no longer than two minutes, and the deadline is May 31. So get to filming. Complete rules and guidelines can be found here.


A day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of $25 limited view side orchestra seats will be held daily for Monty Python’s Spamalot. Lottery tickets are available for every performance.

John O'Hurley” alt=”” />Each day, two hours prior to curtain, ticket buyers can arrive at the Golden Gate Theatre box office to enter their names in the Spamalot lottery where 30 minutes later, names will be drawn for the winning seats. This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person, cash only. Each person must have a valid photo I.D. in order to participate. Visit for more information.


And the final stop on our Spamalot adventure today is a Q&A I did with John O’Hurley (seen at right, photo by Eric Jamison), of “Seinfeld” and “Dancing with the Stars” fame, who is playing King Arthur in the touring production.

The story appeared in the May 17 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. Read it here.

To help you prepare, here’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as it originally appeared in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

Knights Who Say Ni: `Spamalot’ coming to SF at last

Monty Python’s Spamalot is coming to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre in April 2009 as part of the Best of Broadway season. Photos by Carol Rosegg

Prepare to eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.

Monty Python’s Spamalot, the 2005 Tony Award-winning best musical, is coming to San Francisco at long last. The tour has been going for a while, but because there was a sit-down production at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, California wasn’t allowed to get the tour.

Well, now that the Vegas production has been vanquished by a most mean, foul and cruel-tempered rodent a.k.a. white fluffy bunny, the tour is free to hit the Bay Area. And so it will, as the last-announced show in the SHN/Best of Broadway season, and it will play the Golden Gate Theatre in April of 2009.

Based on the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the musical is directed by Mike Nichols and features a score by original Python member Eric Idle and John Du Prez.

As in the movie, the musical tells the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. But unlike the movie, the musical takes a detour to Las Vegas, features a warbling Lady of the Lake and more singing and dancing than you can throw a coconut at.

Tickets for Spamalot are currently available to Best of Broadway subscribers. Call 415-551-2050 or visit for information.

Here’s a homemade sample of Spamalot’s kooky high energy (shame on you whoever smuggled a camera into a musical…but thanks!):

`Shrek’ sings, `Strange’ passes, Clay spams a lot

With that nasty kerfuffle involving the stagehands and the dark Broadway theaters well behind us, it’s time to take a look at what’s going on in New York, where the play is really the thing.

Sure wish I could go see Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, the hottest play on Broadway right now. On a more local front, Letts’ Bug will have its West Coast debut at SF Playhouse in May, filling the slot that was going to be filled with Mark Jackson’s Faust, Part One.

The big news on Broadway recently is that Rent’s lease is up. The pioneering rock musical, which won a posthumous Pulitzer prize for its creator, Jonathan Larson, will close on June 1 and enter the record books as Broadway’s seventh-longest-running musical.

When one musical closes, another one — most likely based on a movie — fills its place.

And here comes Shrek the Musical.

The CGI ogre, who has now starred in three hit movies, will make his musical theater debut this summer in Seattle before moving on to Broadway in November. The creative team behind the DreamWorks musical is impressive (even if the subject matter isn’t): Oscar-winner Sam Mendes is an artistic consultant (and sort of got the project rolling); Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, Or Change); Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole) penned the book and lyrics; and Jason Moore (Avenue Q) is directing.

Moore has said the plot will follow the first movie, when Shrek joins up with his donkey cohort, Donkey, and falls in love with Princess Fiona.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid opened to reviews that were mostly piles of stinking fish. My impression, from reading those fragrant notices is that the show is overproduced, overstuffed and ought to have been thrown back early on. Still, I’d like to see it, if only to watch capable actors skate around on wheeled footwear.

With Mermaid packing in the family crowd, adult interest will shift to Passing Strange, the rock musical by Stew, Heidi Rodewald and director Annie Dorsen that had its pre-New York run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The show is transferring to Broadway and begins performances Feb. 8 at the Belasco Theatre.

The cast is the same one we saw in Berkeley in November 2006: de’Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Stew, himself (with Rodewald on bass and vocals in the band).

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Shrek isn’t the only ogre on Broadway. Clay Aiken opened in Spamalot.

Clay it isn’t so!

Claymates rejoice while the rest of us ponder why Clay Aiken ever stuck his fingers in Kelly Ripa’s mouth (OK, he covered her mouth with his hand, but like she said at the time, she didn’t know where that hand had been — right on, sister).

Aiken, the “American Idol” second-place finisher behind Ruben Studdard, will make his Broadway debut in Monty Python’s Spamalot.

He’ll be playing Brave Sir Robin, a role originated by Davd Hyde Pierce. His stint begins in January and is scheduled to continue into May.

Director Mike Nichols (whoever thought we’d see the day when Mike Nichols, the man who directed The Graduate and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, would be talking about Clay Aiken?) said in a statement: “Clay Aiken is amazing beyond that glorious voice. Turns out he is an excellent comic actor and a master of character. People will be surprised by his wide-ranging talent, since the first impression is of great country charm and a singer to remember. This guy is not only a star, he is a lot more. We are lucky to get him for Spamalot.”

Visit the official Spamalot Web site here.

And here’s a number from Spamalot, “Find Your Grail,” performed on the 59th annual Tony Awards. (You go, Sara Ramirez — happy you have steady work on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but a voice like yours needs to be on a stage).

Vegas query: Broads or Broadway?


Calling Las Vegas the Broadway of the West is really pushing it.

Sure, Mama Mia! has blossomed into a hit, and it looks like Spamalot and The Phantom of the Opera have a chance of success of long runs in the hot desert, but Chicago, Avenue Q and Hairspray didn’t live up to expectations.

The lesson from those shows is that Vegas – like the American public at large – is fickle and can’t always be bothered with something as tiresome as a plot.

Cirque du Soleil has achieved near-religious status in Vegas because it offers up grandiose spectacle that dazzles and overwhelms (almost to a fault), but except for Ka, there are no plots. There are barely even characters.

So what’s a poor little Broadway musical to do in the face of the Cirque juggernaut?

If you’re Spamalot (above), you roll ‘em in the aisles. During my three years in Vegas last week, I saw a lot of empty spectacle, so the stage version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the Wynn Las Vegas was like an oasis of authenticity.

There’s nothing authentic about the show, of course. As adapted by Pythoner Eric Idle, it’s pure silliness, but the laughs are real and hearty.

John O’Hurley (best known as J. Peterman on “Seinfeld’’ and as the “Dancing with the Stars’’ champion) plays King Arthur, and he’s every bit as good as Tim Curry was on Broadway. In fact the whole cast, which includes Harry Bouvy, Justin Brill, J. Anthony Crane, Randal Keith, Edward Staudenmayer, Steven Strafford and Nikki Crawford, is fantastic.

This is a 90-minute, intermissionless version of the show, and that’s just fine. Brevity is the soul of comedy, and director Mike Nichols has trimmed the show appropriately.

Crawford’s Lady of the Lake is a showstopper, and her second-half number, “The Diva’s Lament,’’ has had to be re-written because the Knights of the Round Table no longer search for shrubbery. The song also mentions Jennifer Hudson and gets off a quick “And I Am Telling You’’ riff.

Mel Brooks’ The Producers at the Paris Las Vegas also gets its share of honest laughs, though this is a show whose time has come — and gone.

This abbreviated Vegas version loses at least five songs (including “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop,’’ “That Face,’’ “You Never Say Good Luck on Opening Night,’’ “Where Did We Go Right?’’ and “Betrayed’’) and doesn’t bother with the Act 2 white washing of the set.

But all the good parts — “Little Old Lady Land’’ with its tap-dancing walkers and, of course, the sublimely silly “Springtime for Hitler’’ – are still present and accounted for. There just seems to be something deflated about the comedy.

Lee Roy Reams (replacing David Hasselhoff) is hamming it up something fierce as Roger DeBris, the worst director in New York, and Bill Nolte is nearly stealing the show as Franz Liebkind, the author of the worst play ever written. Brad Oscar (an original Broadway cast member) is a reliable Max Bialystock and Larry Raben is a worthy Leo Bloom.

The audience seems to have a good time with the show (which even though it feels somewhat empty is still far superior to the lame movie version of the musical), but I was uncomfortable with some of the gay and ethnic humor, like the laughs were more “at’’ than “with.’’

Which brings us to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, which is the official name of the dead, soulless heap of stagecraft playing at the Venetian.

The $40 million spent to create a Phantom theater and produce a 95-minute version of the 20-year-old show is certainly visible, but when the best part of a show is the crowd of 80 Belgian-made mannequins (above) that sit in the “opera boxes’’ lining the theater, you know there’s a problem.

In trimming the score, Lloyd Webber has done the show a favor. It seems less bloated and self-important now. But the speed of Harold Prince’s new staging turns the show into what it has always threatened to become: a theme park ride.

In the face of Cirque du Soleil’s O and Love, seeing stage smoke and candles come up from under the stage is not that impressive.

The Vegas chandelier begins the show in multiple pieces, and when they fly into place, it looks like the theater is being overrun by UFOs. When the chandelier falls, the effect is truly impressive: it drops at great speed directly down toward the audience. You can actually feel the whoosh of its drop. But that’s the only thrill here.

Broadway veterans Brent Barrett and Anthony Crivello are sharing the role of the Phantom. I saw the Tony Award-winning Crivello, and he made absolutely no impression at all other than a certain proficiency at hitting his marks. The less said about Christine (Elizabeth Loyacano at my performance) and Raoul (Tim Martin Gleason) the better. I’ll just say the beautifully costumed mannequins gave more believable performances.

I feel about Phantom the way I feel about Las Vegas: I hope the last time was the last time.

And now, one last dip into the Vegas waters. Some 25 years ago, Donn Arden, a master of the Vegas spectacular, crafted Jubilee! in the style to which Vegas had become accustomed, which meant topless showgirls, G-stringed showboys, state-of-the-art special effects circa 1981 (Oooh, fire! Oooh, water!) and thousands of glittery, feathery costumes.

Now that’s the kind of Vegas I’m talking about. I loved every super-cheesy, old-school minute of Jubilee! from the opening Ziegfeld-like number to the ridiculous, nearly nude story of “Samson and Delilah.’’ When you fill a glittery stage with 85 performers high stepping to a mostly pre-recorded soundtrack, never mind the nudity: The spirit of 1970s variety shows lives!

But nothing rivals the sinking of the Titanic (following a ridiculous parade of dancing and Bob Mackie costumes that recall a finale from “The Carol Burnett Show’’). After we see the ship sink amid hulking icebergs, the stage goes black. Within seconds, the cast returns, outfitted in red-white-and-blue to sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.’’

The mind fairly reels. From tragedy to patriotism in the blink of a false eyelashed eye.

Today’s Vegas looks like an otherworldly circus and smells like air freshener working overtime to cover up cigarette smoke, greed and desperation. Old Vegas smells like smoke, vice and rhinestones and looks like Jubilee! Now, if only Frank, Sammy and Elvis would return, I might actually think about liking Las Vegas.