The Tony award winning "officially ripped-off" Broadway musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, premiered in Chicago in December 2004, with an offical Broadway opening on March 17, 2005. Book by Eric Idle, music by Eric Idle and John "A Fish Called Wanda" Du Prez. Although the brainchild of Idle, the other Python members have veto power over all Python-related projects. After viewing a draft of the script, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, and Michael Palin all gave their okay for Idle to proceed. Investors put $11 million into the show.
Mike Nichols, who directed the show, won the 2005 Tony Award for best direction of a musical.
The original Monty Python troupe members do not appear in the show. Although Idle wanted a cast of unknowns, Nichols insisted on choosing marquee names. The original cast included Tim Curry as King Arthur, David Hyde Pierce as Sir Robin, and Hank Azaria as Sir Launcelot. Once the show opened, all were noted for strong performances, and Curry and Azaria were both nominated for Tony Awards. (Later, in 2008, American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken stepped into the role of Sir Robin.)
The musical includes the songs from the original film, "Brave Sir Robin," "He's Going to Tell," and "Knights of the Round Table"-- the latter, of course, containing the line from which this show draws its name: "We dine well here in Camelot/ We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot."
"What's nice about the 'Grail' is it keeps coming to points where it should absolutely have always had a song, like 'I'm not dead yet.' And it does that all the time. Obviously, there are some songs in it, but sometimes it seems to us, adapting it, that the songs were always there." (Eric Idle, Playbill.com)
As of March 2004, Idle announced he currently had 25 other songs created as possibilities for the show, including "Fetchez La Vache" (Note: Songs are often cut, drastically changed, or added during rehearsals and pre-Broadway runs). Idle and Du Prez had been working on the show for three years. (If you've got Flash, you can hear Idle singing one of the new songs, "He's Not Yet Dead" on the show's official website at: <:http://www.montypythonsspamalot.com> (Click on "The Book of Eric Idle")
The show opened in Chicago with such ditties as "Burn Her," for the witch trial scene, and several Andrew Lloyd Weber pastiches ("Find Your Grail," "The Song That Goes Like This")-- apparently one new plot point has God commanding Arthur to put on a Broadway musical. Idle also borrows from Life of Brian, inserting "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" into the show. The songs were arranged by Glen Kelly (The Producers). Songs included in Chicago run:
- "Fisch Schlapping Song,"
- "King Arthur’s Song,"
- "I Am Not Dead Yet,"
- "Come With Me,"
- "The Song That Goes Like This,"
- "Burn Her!,"
- "All For One,"
- "Knights of the Round Table,"
- "The Song That Goes Like This (Reprise),"
- "Find Your Grail,"
- "The Cow Song,"
- "Run Away,"
- "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,"
- "Brave Sir Robin,"
- "You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,"
- "The Diva’s Lament,"
- "Where Are You?,"
- "Here Are You,"
- "His Name is Lancelot,"
- "I’m All Alone,"
- "The Song That Goes Like This (Reprise),"
- "The Holy Grail"
- "Find Your Grail Finale - Medley."
The copyright holders of the musical Camelot were reported to be displeased with the title of the show, but have not threatened any legal action. Hormel Foods, the makers of Spam meat product, were delighted with the title, and released a limited edition flavor, "Spam Golden Honey Grail," in a collector's edition can in the New York market to coincide with the opening of the musical on Broadway.
The show premiered at Chicago's Shubert Theatre, Dec. 21, 2004 to Jan. 16, 2005. Previews began in New York at the Shubert Theatre on 44th Street February 14, 2005. Early buzz picked Sara Ramirez, who played the Lady of the Lake, to be the breakout star (she frequently had the audience forget there were "big name" stars in the show), and sure enough, she won a Tony Award for featured actress in a musical. Reviewers and audiences also singled out choreographer Casey Nicholaw as a rising star. He was nominated for a Tony, along with nominations for Azaria, Ramirez, Nichols, Sir Galahad (Christopher Sieber) Patsy (Michael McGrath), the lighting designer, the scenic designer, the costume designer, Idle for the Book, and Idle and DuPrez for the music.
Monty Python's Spamalot won a total of three Tonys: in addition to Nichols and Ramirez, it garnered the 2005 Tony Award for Best Musical. (Idle and DuPrez went home empty handed, as the Tony for Best Book went to Rachel Sheinkin for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the Tony for Best Musical Score went to Adam Guettel for The Light in the Piazza.) The Tony for Best Musical goes to the producers not the authors, in this case: Boyett Ostar Productions, The Shubert Organization, Arielle Tepper, Stephanie McClelland/Lawrence Horowitz, Elan V. McAllister/Allan S. Gordon, Independent Presenters Network, Roy Furman, GRS Associates, Jam Theatricals, TGA Entertainment, and Clear Channel Entertainment.
The show opened in New York with $18 million in advance ticket sales (average ticket price $75), making it the closest thing to a boffo hit that the 2004-2005 Broadway season had (distinct from the most profitable show, which was Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays). Investors expected to break even by early 2006. A U.S. and International tour of the show will bring in more profit. In London's West End, the show opened in October 2006 with Curry once again playing King Arthur. The London production ran until January 2009.
The show closed on Broadway in January 2009.
Dave Eggers. "Sixteen Tons of Fun." The New Yorker. 13 December 2004. <http://newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?041220crat_atlarge> (14 December 2004).
Ernio Hernandez. "Chicago to Eat Ham as Monty Python's Spamalot Debuts in December Before Broadway." Playbill.com. 26 February 2004. <http://www.playbill.com/news/article/84619.html> (Accessed March 4, 2004).
The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards Official Web Site. 5 June 2005. <http://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/nominees/index.html> (Accessed June 5, 2005)
--. "Creator Eric Idle Talks of Monty Python's Spamalot Quest From Film to Musical." Playbill.com. 1 March 2004. <http://www.playbill.com/news/article/84680.html> Accessed March 4, 2004.
Chris Jones. "'Monty Python's Spamalot' musical will open run here." Chicago Tribune. 27 February 2004.
Michael Phillips. "Is 'Spamalot' Digestible?" Chicago Tribune]. January 11, 2005/