The Playgoer: RE-REVIEW: Spamalot

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

RE-REVIEW: Spamalot

Monthy Python's Spamalot
On Broadway at the Shubert Theatre
starring Simon Russell Beale & replacement cast

And now for something completely different...

I revisited Spamalot this weekend, specifically to check out the great English classical actor Simon Russell Beale as King Arthur. While my original response last year contained many reservations, still I remember it as a rollicking good time.

And now? Mike Nichols, please go see your show and see what has become of it! At least at a tired Sunday matinee, the replacement cast does an adequte job walking through the paces. But with such self-acknowledged fluff as this, adequate is deadly. One realizes now that the whole charm of the show was watching big comedy egos (Hank Azaria, David Hyde Pierce, and Tim Curry) make asses of themsleves and love it. Most missed of all is Sara Ramirez's "Lady of the Lake" who raised diva bitchiness to Greek tragic levels, which her small-voiced, perfect-pitch replacement can't begin to summon. All these originals were glorious hams. Now we get spams.

While at first Beale seemed inspired (re)casting, in retrospect it makes no sense. Here's an actor who has specialized in frumpy everymen, from the aptly titled Humble Boy to a memorable Vanya. As Jumpers showed he's the lovable loser, the beseiged intellectual, a poet of the defeated. (Even his Hamlet was modest.) So what was Mike thinking casting him as the steady "King of the Britons" to preside over the chaos? Watching Beale try to front the Vegas-style "Knights of the Round Table" number--backed up by kicking chorus girls and sparkling roulette wheels--was an odd and dispiriting spectacle. (Or non-spectacle.) The man may have the training, and the natural gifts, to command an audience through the densest of soliloquies. But "selling" an all-out piece of Broadway musical kitsch is just not in his DNA. Tim Curry may be British. But he also was the original Rocky Horror, remember...

The moment brought to mind the travails of Beale's colleague, the great Henry Goodman, who was fired as Nathan Lane's replacement in The Producers. Not having seen him I always felt deprived of a potentially great performance. The ruthless treatment of him by the real-life producers was still clearly unfair. But for the first time I could imagine what might have been wrong. Can it be, the Brits have now outpaced us in psychological complexity, and we're the "hams"?

1 comment:

Larissa said...

you really should have come to my debaucherama housewarming party instead.