Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

Camelot - From the musical of the same name from the 1960s

Call me an old fogey. Call me a traditionalist. But I think if the Broadway musical I went to see this afternoon were "Camelot" starring a Richard Burton or Richard Harris type singing the above quoted theme song, I might have enjoyed it even more. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy what I did see: "Monty Python's Spamalot."

Monty Python humor is quite polarizing. Many love it to the ends of the Earth. Others hate it as puerile and vulgar. I kinda fall in between.

I love parody. I think parody can be one of the highest forms of comedic art there is. In parody, the artist is mocking their subject of course but that can be either as an educational eye-opener acknowledging an intelligent person's (or what should be) response to a ridiculous situation or it can be a total, all-out homage.

Spamalot though, in my opinion, can't seem to figure out which side of the coin it's fallen on. Is it a musical comedy honoring and bringing forth to a new generation the beloved jokes and gags from the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (as well as "Life of Brian" and perhaps others thrown in for good measure)? Or is it a bitter condemnation of what musical comic theater has become over the past few decades: Shlocky tripe Frankensteined from earlier source material and fed to the ignorant masses to simply garner a quick and easy profit for the producers?

I'd wanted to see this musical for years and when I went to Vegas a few years ago I was remiss to find that it had already been cancelled there even though I thought I'd read that it would stay on for a least a decade's run.

I got a postcard in the mail a couple of weeks ago as I usually do about upcoming performances for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and it announced they were performing it this month. It took me only a few hours to think about it and since I knew I would be on vacation this week, I booked my ticket for today. Great seat, small theater where every seat is good and I was dead center 6 or 7 rows from the stage. I talked about this theater here in this review.

As expected, the 2:00 pm weekday matinee audience was pretty much the following make-up: 90% over the age of 60, 9% over the age of 85, and 1% (including me) NOT one foot in the grave. (Well, from age alone that is.) But these demographics played well for this stuff since Monty Python fans of their original BBC broadcasted stuff are pretty much in their sixties. I wasn't even a teenager when they were first on TV. The 60ish year olds would have been young adults then, able to understand the innuendos and, if inclined to appreciate it, "get" the British style humor (or should I spell it "humour?") and this show just re-kindles that 40 year love affair.

Now don't get me wrong, as I said, I didn't hate the show, but somehow I thought it would be more "up-to-date" and pertinent to our current way of life rather than rely so heavily on the well-known, but somewhat weary stuff from 40 years ago.

The first act is pretty much all old stuff. The coconut-shell hoarse hooves sounds and no real horse, the feeble search for knights, the bullet-shaped-helmuted French castle guards and their 12-year-old-humor gross out insults to Arthur and his troupe. Yes, yes, yes...I fart in your general direction. Ha Ha Ha. Was hilarious when I was 12. Now, it's more like reading Stephen King. It kinda sucks and is pretty stupid but it's comforting, like visiting an old friend.

The second act does start to bring in parody in the form of fourth wall disrespect. King Arthur is tasked to put on a Broadway musical and lo and behold, The Lady of the Lake informs him that's precisely what he's doing. The jokes get a bit more political (and perhaps for some, politically incorrect) such as the admonishment to Arthur by Galahad that he needs Jews for a successful Broadway production. And the Lancelot outing scene.

Now that did get a bit uncomfortable for me since it depicts a character, unseen until then, as an incredible over-the-top old skool stereotype of an effeminate gay guy being mistreated by his gruff, apparently disgusted father. The father even cuts a rope of sheets that our mincing prince has started to descend from outside of the castle tower's window, and we hear him fall to his apparent death. Though, of course, since this musical was written in 2004, it doesn't knowingly nod to the more recent practice of ISIS militants barbaric defenestration of suspected homosexual men in the Middle East, it sadly reminded me of such. Not a comic note.

All gags aside, the plot was pretty much non-existent, but that's also, a true Python fan would remind, is just so, well, Monty Python. Arthur and the Lady of the Lake (who turns out to be, big surprise,  Guinevere) get married and we end the whole thing by joining in a sing a long of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

Maybe it would have been more fitting to have a bunch of bobbies arrive on stage and command us all to go home? Meh...

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