Theater review: `Spamalot’

Opened May 27, 2009 at the Golden Gate Theatre

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.